Papal Canonizations, Part 1: Pope John XXIII’s Influence on LGBT Equality

April 26, 2014

On Sunday, April 27th, two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized as saints in the Catholic Church.  For many Catholics who support LGBT issues, this double canonization is an occasion of mixed emotions. Though many are happy with the canonization of John XXIII, their joy is tempered by the fact that John Paul II, who was responsible for instituting many anti-LGBT policies and teachings, is being similarly honored.

Pope John XXIII

Today, I’ll review the contribution of John XXIII on LGBT issues in the church. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at John Paul II’s influence on these matters.  On Monday, we will provide a review of some of the wealth of commentary written recently about these two men.

John XXIII’s greatest achievement in his papacy was convening the Second Vatican Council, which opened up a new era of theological reform in the Church.  Most importantly, for LGBT issues, the theological reform included an important development in the Church’s sexual teaching.  Theologian Lisa Fullam recently offered a succinct description of Vatican II’s development of sexual theology in her essay, “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.”  Fullam states:

“The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes identified two ends of marriage: the procreation and education of children, and the intimate union of husband and wife through which ‘they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day.’ (GS 48) Gaudium et Spes eliminated the long-held idea that procreation was seen as the primary end of marriage while the union of the partners was deemed secondary or instrumental to that primary end. The Council insisted that  ‘[m]arriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation’ (GS 50). Instead, it ‘maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking’ (GS 50). Departing from most previous teaching in which the procreative end of marriage was elevated over the unitive end, the Council refused to prioritize either. However, the Council insisted that childless marriages are still truly marriages, not some lesser partnership, while no such contrary affirmation is made—loveless but procreative unions are not affirmed (or rejected) as true marriage by the Council.”

By displacing procreation from its position of primacy in sexual theology, and by raising the unitive function to a higher status, Vatican II opened the way for theologians to explore the unitive function more deeeply, which allowed them to consider the moral status of relationships which were not biologically procreative, especially gay and lesbian relationships.  So, John XXIII’s Vatican II  opened the way for a new discussion of sexuality in theology, which paved the way for the growing field of lesbian and gay theology.

Vatican II’s emphasis on justice being a constitutive part of the preaching of the gospel also had an effect on the development of LGBT ministry.  Fullam points out that John XXIII’s emphasis on human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris provided a new perspective for Catholics:

“The language of rights, then, is how Catholics take our religiously grounded understanding of the common good out into public discourse. With the humility appropriate to fallible human beings, we seek input from all people of good will as we do so. We don’t seek to legislate the whole moral law, but only those rights and duties by which the flourishing of all people is made possible. Our deep commitment to human dignity and the equality of all human persons is the bedrock on which Catholic teaching grounds its social message.”

John’s writings opened the path a more justice-oriented church.  One other outcome of this pope’s approach was the development following Vatican II of liberation theology, which would eventually be applied to the LGBT experience.

Immediately following Vatican II was when Catholics first started taking the human rights and liberation of LGBT people more seriously.  As this blog stated on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II:

“In one respect,  the movement for LGBT liberation, equality, and justice in the Catholic Church is a direct result of Vatican II.    The Council’s reform of theology, its updating of scriptural interpretations, its openness to scientific knowledge, its invitation for participation by the laity, its clarion call to work for justice in the world and the church–all these things were part of the 1960s Catholic zeitgeist which resulted in a burgeoning movement to be involved with, and work for justice for, LGBT people.

“It’s no accident that both two of the oldest Catholic ministries to LGBT people–Dignity and New Ways Ministry–emerged from this era and as a direct result of priests and religious following the call of Vatican II.  Similarly, it would have been unimaginable that John McNeill’s theological groundbreaking work, The Church and the Homosexual, could have been written before the Council.”

It is no overstatement to say that without John XXIII, the movement in the Church for LGBT equality would have been much delayed and much diminished.  For this contribution of his, and for the many other ways that he ushered in a more compassionate, just, and socially involved church, Catholics who support LGBT equality are rejoicing at his canonization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Must Act Against Anti-Gay Laws in Nigeria & Elsewhere

March 7, 2014

Today is the Global Day of Action for Nigeria, as LGBT advocates worldwide demonstrate to get that nation’s leaders to retract a recent law imposing harsh penalties on gay people and even those supportive of equal rights. The rise of anti-LGBT legislation has prompted an unusual split among Catholic bishops around the world, and Pope Francis remains quiet as Uganda became the latest nation to pass harsh discrimination laws last week.

U.S. Catholic published a piece highlighting the fissure among the world’s bishops in how they have responded to anti-gay legislation. David Gibson writes:

“The issue is especially pressing in Africa, where Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, recently adopted a harsh law that imposes a 14-year prison term for anyone entering into a same-sex relationship, as well as a 10-year sentence for anyone found to support gay clubs or meetings. Even public displays of affection by gays and lesbians is considered a crime…

“In Nigeria the leader of the hierarchy fully supported that country’s new law, which prompted a wave of violence against gays when it passed.

“In a January letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his ‘courageous and wise decision’ in signing the legislation. Kaigama said it would protect Nigeria ‘against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices.’ “

This letter from Nigeria’s bishops prompted an unusually robust editorial from The Southern Cross, a Catholic weekly associated with southern African bishops. Gibson notes the divided reaction by the hierarchy elsewhere. Whereas Poland’s bishops have launched a war on “the ideology of gender”, India’s leading prelate, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, condemned his nation’s criminalization of homosexuality in January. Gibson also notes the much celebrated comments by Irish archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the graphic to the right.

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Gibson believes this division of bishops may be an extreme backlash against advances made by LGBT advocates on issues the bishops do oppose, like marriage equality. He cites Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, who sees cultural differences and regional politics in Asia and Africa as additional reasons for the split.

Regardless of the reasons, the failure of Catholic bishops to condemn laws targeting gay people for discrimination has angered many Catholics in the pews — and even more so when bishops supported such laws, as in Nigeria. People of faith worldwide have used the#PopeSpeakOut campaign to urge Pope Francis to condemn Nigeria’s law, as well as other efforts around the globe to discriminate against LGBT people.

One sign of hope in all this is the fact that bishops are divided and criticizing one another, which led Pat Perriello, a National Catholic Reporter columnist, to write:

“There appears to be a new willingness among members of the church hierarchy to openly disagree with one another. Nowhere does this seem more pronounced than on the issue of the treatment of gays. Viewpoints veer from unabashed support of criminalization of any kind of gay activity to references in the Catholic catechism calling for respect and acceptance of gay individuals in our midst…

“[H]ow refreshing it is to see and hear once again a bit of ferment in the church. It is reminiscent of vital theological discussions that took place following the Second Vatican Council. This is how the spirit works best. This is how all of us grow and learn more about what God seeks to tell us.”

In the wake of the emerging human rights disaster surrounding LGBT people, these divisions may not be enough. Uganda’s bishops have remained silent on their nation’s law, in fact, they only recently began reviewing it, weeks after its enactment. The Nigerian hierarchy has done worse damage with its vocal support of their nation’s law. It is time for Pope Francis to lead the Church in strongly condemning any law or policy which specifically discriminates against LGBT people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

NPR, “Ugandan Gay Activist: President Will Have No Problem Putting Me In Jail

Spiritual Friendship: “LGBT Rights and the UN: What the Church Does Not Teach


Cardinals’ Ignorance of Homosexuality Will Lead to Violence and Human Rights Abuses

January 21, 2014

Sometimes ignorance on a topic is to be pitied, and the best response to it is not anger, but an effort to educate the person with more accurate information.  But we must not forget that ignorance can cause great damage because it can blossom into attitudes and policies which lead to violence and human rights abuses.  The public statements of two Catholic leaders recently illustrate these principles.

Cardinal Fernando Sebastian

In Spain, Cardinal Fernando Sebastian, who is the retired archbishop of Pamplona, gave an interview to Diario Sur newspaper in which he called homosexuality a “defect” that can be cured. [Note: the previous link will bring you to the original Spanish-language interview.]  New York’s Daily News reported on the Spanish interview:

” ‘Homosexuality is a defective manner of expressing sexuality, because this has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation,’ he said in an interview to Diario Sur.

” ‘A homosexual who can’t achieve this (procreation) is failing,’ he added, before saying, ‘Our bodies have many defects. I have high blood pressure.’

Sebastian said it was ‘a defect I have to try and correct in whatever way I can.’

” ‘To say that homosexuality is a defect is not an insult: it helps because in many cases of homosexuality it is possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment.’ “

Such comments betray the depth of the ignorance which is obviously at work in the minds of many church leaders.  It is shocking and pitiable, and it helps us to see why church teaching and practice is so harsh on LGBT issues.  This ignorance needs to be corrected, not only for the cardinal’s sake, but for the sake of LGBT people throughout the world.

Cardinal John Oniyekan

A case which shows how lack of understanding LGBT issues can be harmful came out in the headlines in the African nation of Nigeria, which last week enacted a law which outlawed same-sex marriage and also outlawed the establishment of gay and lesbian organizations.Soon after the law was signed, Nigeria’s Cardinal John Oniyekan stated that he supported the measure.  According to PMnewsNigeria.com:

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, has commended Nigeria’s Federal Government for its uncompromising stand on the anti-gay law in spite of criticisms from a section of the international community.

“Onaiyekan, briefing newsmen on activities to mark his 70th birthday in Abuja on Friday, said Nigeria, being an independent country, should stand firm on its culture, tradition and morals.

“ ‘The church accepts people as they are, we condemn homosexuality, Nigeria is an independent country and we do not beg for food.’ “

The cardinal, like many in Nigeria, have framed the issue of homosexuality as one where Western liberal nations are trying to impose their values on African culture, hence his comment about not begging for food.  But the cardinal seems ignorant of the basics of Catholic social teaching which respects the dignity, equality, and liberty of all people–even those with whom one might disagree.  While he certainly has an obligation to respect Nigerian culture, he also has an obligation to defend Catholic principles on basic human rights.

Bishop Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese also publicly supported the new anti-gay law.

One needs to ask if these bishops have learned nothing from history.  Whenever laws have restricted people’s freedoms or viewed certain groups as second class citizens, it doesn’t take long for violence and human rights abuses to occur. Nazi Germany and Jim Crow America spring quickly to mind.  Laws which restrict freedom or create second class categories give people permission to enact hateful acts.  When religious leaders voice their support of such laws or promote misguided theories about people’s lives, they not only give permission for people to commit hateful acts, but, in fact, they encourage such behavior.

Pope Francis has indicated a more respectful attitude toward LGBT people than any of his predecessors had ever done.  Some people have wondered how he will put that attitude into practice.  One way he can begin is by educating bishops, cardinals, and other church leaders about the basic facts of sexual orientation and the basic principles of Catholic social teaching.  Without such education, their ignorance will fuel violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people.

Ignorance may be pitied, but it cannot be tolerated.  Too many lives hang in the balance.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Donors Fill the Gap When Bishops Cut Funds Because of Marriage Equality Support

October 3, 2013
Two months ago, immigrants’ rights organizations in Chicago lost funding from the US bishops over their support of marriage equality. Now, the National Catholic Reporter reveals an impressive effort underway to replace lost grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a an anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.The collaborative effort, called Solidarity Fund, hopes to raise $300,000 from charitable foundations this year to support almost a dozen immigration-focused organizations located in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

These organizations received grants from CCHD, and they were also affiliated with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights, which endorsed marriage equality in May.  The coalition had stated:

“While we recognize that there are differences of opinion within immigrant and faith-based communities regarding same-sex marriages, including among our members, the majority of our members — and therefore our organization — believe that a full respect for our state’s and our nation’s diversity demands that we not discriminate based on whom we love, and that we call upon an end to such discrimination in our local, state, and federal laws.”

This statement triggered a response from the US bishops asking any organizations receiving CCHD grants to withdraw from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights or lose their funding. The news report explains what happened in ensuing weeks:

“A month later, a group of Chicago Catholics wrote an open letter in the Chicago Tribune to Cardinal Francis George, accusing him of using immigrants ‘as pawns in a political battle,’ and urged him to reconsider rescinding the groups’ funding.

“A day later, George responded that the board of the immigrant and refugee coalition, not he, cut the funding by endorsing same-sex marriage and said the church continues to support immigrants and immigration reform through other organizations.”

One of these immigrants rights’ groups spoke of the  impossible decision to forgo funding or withdraw from the statewide immigration reform coalition:

“For the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, [Executive Director Leone Jose] Bicchieri said the archdiocese contacted him several times in an effort to find a solution, but ultimately, he and his staff determined, given their focus, it didn’t make sense for their organization to sever ties with coalition.

“‘We felt that now was not a time to even consider splintering off from a coalition around immigration reform,’…adding that he was hopeful for future opportunities for collaboration with the Chicago archdiocese.”

The actions of Cardinal George and CCHD are harming efforts to assist migrants and achieve immigration reform. Defunding organizations over LGBT issues forces these groups to commit limited resources to respond to the bishops’ narrow concerns and leaves them less capable of enacting charity and justice for immigrants, a position the Catholic Church strongly endorses. It is an inspiration that the Solidarity Fund is acting swiftly to make up the funding through donors, but this politicking and crisis management model leaves all sides worse off.

CCHD promotes their work with the phrase, “Fight Poverty. Defend Human Dignity.” As a former intern with them, I know well the deep impact the CCHD has had in rectifying injustices in the US and building up a more just society. It is one of the American Church’s true accomplishments since Vatican II. Yet, actions like the defunding in Chicago leave me wondering why the bishops equivocate whose dignity Catholics will defend and why so many must be hurt for their crusade against civil marriage equality.

To donate to the Solidarity Fund, you can visit their website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Russian Olympics Is an Opportune Time for Catholic Human Rights Witness

September 3, 2013

Russia’s passage of anti-gay laws and  discrimination against LGBT people in that nation have made the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi increasingly controversial. Opinions remain divided over a US boycott, pressuring corporate sponsors, and how LGBT athletes should act while competing.

Catholics lack consensus as well over how to respond to Sochi 2014, but still it seems poignant to explore how faith can inform this debate about human rights, athletic competition, and witnessing to the Gospel.

Catholic leadership is muted on the evolving situation in Russia. The secretary-general of the nation’s bishops’ conference stated the Church in Russia would have no position on either the law banning “homosexual propaganda” or on a potential boycott of the Sochi 2014 Games. CatholicPhilly.com reports that Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, a Russian Catholic leader, said:

” ‘It’s hard to predict whether homosexual athletes and fans will face problems at the Olympics — these are issues connected with the life of society in Russia…’

“Msgr. Kovalevsky said homosexuality was a marginal issue in Russian society.

“There are very few homosexuals in our Catholic communities, and we direct our pastoral work at individuals, not groups. But we don’t exclude homosexual people either…”

As for the United States, a conservative extremist group called the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute has actively supported Russia’s law and the expansion of similar legislation in Eastern Europe, as OutInJersey.net reports. Alternatively, a columnist in The New Yorker cast Pope Francis as the progressive on LGBT issues in his takedown of Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“This is a time in which Pope Francis can ask, “Who am I to judge” gays and lesbians of good will, and have it largely well received among his followers—Putin is the one who is out of step. As the new leader of the Catholic Church acknowledged that gay priests were worthy of dignity, an old autocrat denied that dignity to his own citizens and, come the Olympics, to citizens of the world.”

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter  has written about solving the perennial problem of nations with terrible human rights records hosting the Olympic Games. His column contains a detailed history of this record, but in summary Winters states:

“Changing venues at this late stage is never going to happen. And, a boycott would be ineffectual…But, these two remedies miss the larger point: Russia never should have been awarded the Olympic Games in the first place.”

Winters identifies Russia’s long-standing record of abusing human rights against many populations; the LGBT community is only the latest group suffering a crackdown. Why is it, Winters asks, that the participants, administrators, and fans allowed nations like China and Russia to host the Games when their reputations are so well known?

Sochi 2014 is an opportunity for LGBT advocates to reflect on their role in the broader movement for human rights. Winters rightly wonders why it is Russia’s anti-gay law that would trigger a boycott, while past abuses by President Putin were acceptable for the nation to continue hosting the Games. While the struggles for LGBT rights are of utmost importance, this advocacy cannot forget others whose human rights are limited and deprived. Sochi 2014 is a reminder that the Catholic LGBT community must speak out for the rights of others, just as it advocates for its own rights because this is a common struggle for God’s just and equitable reign.

Sochi 2014 also presents an opportunity for unity among Catholics often divided on issue of LGBT rights here in America. Even those who oppose marriage equality or non-discrimination laws can assuredly agree that persecuting people with criminalization and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is an indefensible affront to each person’s dignity. Catholics should urge the Russian Church, the Vatican, and their local leaders to speak out against any and all laws that encourage the persecution of LGBT people.

While the Games will begin next February, it looks like controversies will persist right on through to the opening ceremony.  The period leading up to the Games is an opportune moment for Catholics to raise their voices for LGBT rights and for the human rights of all people in Russia.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


In Africa, An Archbishop Promotes and a Cardinal Decries LGBT Human Rights

July 10, 2013

Over the past week or so there has been some good news and some bad news out of Africa concerning Catholic LGBT issues.

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

On the good news side, a papal envoy to Kenya recently called for the protection of lesbian and gay human rights on a visit to that nation to open a new pastoral center.  Kenya’s The Star newspaper reports:

“The pope’s representative to Kenya Charles Daniel Balvo has asked Kenyans to accord homosexuals respect, dignity and human rights and not discriminate against them.

“Speaking after commissioning a Sh400 million pastoral centre at the Embu Catholic Cathedral in Embu town, Balvo said the Catholic Church does not approve of homosexuality but it recognises the dignity of every individual.

” ‘The homosexuals should be defended against violation of their dignity and human rights, they are human beings like anyone of us,’ he said.”

The newspaper article notes that these words from a papal envoy come soon after many African religious leaders criticized U.S. President Obama’s recent trip to Africa where he spoke in favor of LGBT human rights.  A Religion News Service  article quotes Obama as saying:

“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”

Cardinal John Njue

Cardinal John Njue

One of those religious leaders speaking against Obama was a cardinal from Kenya.  London’s Tablet magazine reports:

“Kenyan Cardinal John Njue has issued a strongly worded riposte to US President Barack Obama’s call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Africa.

“At the start of his three-nation African tour in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on 28 June, Mr Obama said gays deserved equal rights. Homosexual acts are illegal in 38 African nations.

“Speaking in Nairobi the next day, Njue, president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, said Obama, whose father was Kenyan, should forget the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

” ‘Let him forget and forget and forget … I think we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths,’ said Njue. ‘Those people who have already ruined their society … let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go.’ “

Obviously, Cardinal Njue is unaware that the Catholic faith’s most authoritative traditions are on the side of protecting LGBT human rights, as Archbishop Balvo stated.    The Religion News Service article also quotes Anglican, Lutheran, and Muslim religious leaders who similarly condemned Obama’s intervention.   The article also notes:

“Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries, according to the Washington-based Council for Global Equality, and many religious leaders here view it as contrary to scriptures and custom.”

Prominent among those nations is Zimbabwe, headed by Robert Mugabe, a Catholic, whose homophobic rants we reported on recently.  On the campaign trail for re-election, he is continuing to spew anti-gay vitriol, some of which can be read here.  For stories of the reality of gay lives under Zimbabwean terror,  I refer you to the blog 76Crimes.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


El Salvador Hosts First National Conference on LGBT Human Rights

April 29, 2013

On Palm SundayBondings 2.0 promised a full report on the recently held first national conference on LGBT human rights in El Salvador.   New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, and Francis DeBernardo, executive director, participated as speakers on faith issues.

This week, The National Catholic Reporter printed an essay by DeBernardo, reporting on his impressions of this historic meeting.  He begins by describing the mood at the event:

Nelson Pineda, a volunteer from Aspidh Arcoiris Trans de El Salvador, speaks with conference attendees in front of a memorial to trans women who have been murdered in El Salvador in the past decade. Aspidh Arcoiris is a Salvadoran non-profit organization that works primarily with transgender, transsexual and transvestite individuals in the areas of human rights and HIV prevention. (Courtesy of ALDES El Salvador)

Nelson Pineda, a volunteer from Aspidh Arcoiris Trans de El Salvador, speaks with conference attendees in front of a memorial to trans women who have been murdered in El Salvador in the past decade. Aspidh Arcoiris is a Salvadoran non-profit organization that works primarily with transgender, transsexual and transvestite individuals in the areas of human rights and HIV prevention. (Courtesy of ALDES El Salvador)

“On the day after the first Jesuit and the first Latin American was elected pope, I was fortunate to be on the University of Central America campus, a Jesuit school in El Salvador. The excitement on campus that day was electric and the student body was abuzz with energy.

“But the excitement was not about the new pope. That news seemed like an afterthought compared to the event beginning that day on campus.

Gathered in the school’s Segundo Montes, SJ, Auditorium (named for one of the six Salvadoran Jesuit martyrs assassinated at the school in 1989), some 350 people took part in El Salvador’s first national conference on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights. The March 14-15 conference, “Felicidad y Diversidad Sexual como Derechos Humanos” (“Happiness and Sexual Diversity as Human Rights”), was sponsored by ALDES El Salvador (Asistencia Legal para la Diversidad Sexual de El Salvador). It brought together lawyers, legal scholars, politicians, faith leaders and LGBT advocates to move forward El Salvador’s burgeoning LGBT human rights movement. By the end of the second day, more than 1,000 people had participated in this meeting in San Salvador, the nation’s capital. My colleague, longtime Catholic LGBT advocate Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, and I were part of the program, presenting the topic of “Faith Communities as Promoters of Human Rights.”

“That first morning, the atrium echoed with voices filled with enthusiasm to begin the two days of meetings. The registration line snaked around the reception area and the aisles in the auditorium were filled with people sitting on the steps. Strangers welcomed one another, eager to meet the people with whom they would be sharing this event. In Spanish and English, people greeted each other, not letting even language become a barrier to the camaraderie.”

The conference organization was a joint effort between U.S. and El Salvador personnel, and it was significant that it was being hosted by a Catholic campus:

“The conference was a joint effort between activists and legal specialists in the United States and El Salvador. Ana Montano, a Salvadoran woman who is an immigration and LGBT rights lawyer in San Francisco, was aided in conference preparation by John Marrin and Danielle Mackey, two organizers from the United States who live in El Salvador. Lawyers and legal scholars from both nations presented at the meeting, discussing ways that professionals in both countries could help one another.

“Though faith was only a small segment of the conference’s program, the participants were keenly aware that the nation’s leading Catholic university was hosting the event. Omar Serrano, the campus’ vice rector for social outreach, welcomed the conference, saying that it was “an honor” to host the program, and acknowledged that church institutions could do more for LGBT rights, including “asking forgiveness” for previous inaction. All attendees were keenly aware of how faith groups have helped to spread homophobia; being welcomed to a Catholic campus was an important positive sign that was not lost on the participants.”

DeBernardo describes the human rights situation for LGBT people  in El Salvador:

At a conference prayer service, Sister Jeannine Gramick lights candles in memory of LGBT people murdered in El Salvador.

At a conference prayer service, Sister Jeannine Gramick lights candles in memory of LGBT people murdered in El Salvador.

“The human rights situation for LGBT people in El Salvador is as bleak as it was in the United States 40 years ago. Violence, murder, ostracism and economic deprivation are all too common for those who choose to be public about their sexuality and gender identity. The ‘machismo’ factor in Latin culture augments the repression sexual minorities experience.

Because people are fearful of coming forward after a violation of their rights, cases do not get prosecuted, and statistics reflect this underreporting. That the atmosphere is still so repressive made the fact that the conference was happening all the more remarkable. And the courage of the presenters to discuss their work and personal stories publicly was all the more inspiring. An American participant told me, ‘People in El Salvador ‘come out’ at the risk of their own lives. In the U.S., we ‘come out’ at the risk of temporary hurt feelings.’ “

“Though the social atmosphere may seem to someone from the United States as if El Salvador were ‘behind the times,’ in some ways it is way ahead of its large and liberal Northern neighbor. For example, transgender issues were front and center at this conference, definitely a main part of the agenda. When I attend conferences in the U.S. on LGBT topics, transgender issues often feel like an afterthought. Similarly, intersex people (those born with genitalia and secondary characteristics of both genders) were also well-represented — something that I have seen only once at meetings in the U.S.”

And the conference ended on a joyful and optimistic note:

“By the end of the conference, Montano, the emcee, joyously announced that during the two days, the first Salvadoran lawyer agreeing to work on LGBT rights cases on a pro bono basis came forward — a necessity given the economic challenges of the populace. Montano was optimistic that this lawyer would be the first of many more. She was also optimistic about the future of the conference. Her words of farewell to participants: ‘Hasta el año próximo’ — ‘Until next year.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


‘Known Lesbian’ Reaches Out to Cardinal Without LGBT Friends

April 28, 2013

In mid-April, Bondings 2.0 reported on a South African cardinal who claimed to know of no LGBT individuals personally, and thus rejected any claims he could be homophobic. Now, a self-ascribed “known lesbian” has written to Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier to challenge his statements, and, in between, presents a novel argument for why Catholic prelates fight so fiercely to deny LGBT equality.

Melanie Judge’s piece was published in the Mail & Guardian, a leading African paper, under the title, “Hi, Cardinal Napier. I’m lesbian.” She begins by questioning the cardinal’s involvement on issues of sexuality if he knows of no LGBT individuals:

“For someone who doesn’t know any homosexuals, you’ve spent a considerable amount of time concerning yourself with the lives of lesbian and gay people – specifically our rights to equality and protection under the law.

“If you don’t know us, and then by implication there aren’t any of us in your church, it seems queer that you would assume such an active position in denying us our right to rights.”

Ms. Judge is not content to say that Napier is simply anti-gay.   Instead, she believes his staunch opposition to South African legislation that would legalize civil unions is merely an attempt to preserve his power, and the power of the Catholic Church, that

“…entrenches a version of social relations and human sexuality based on male supremacy, the subordination of women, and the abjection of homosexuality….Perhaps your investment in the lives of sinful others is driven by an interest in protecting that power and the ideology that props it up. If so, I can understand why you’d rail against gays, lesbians and women who challenge your ideology.”

She continues by shedding light on Napier’s attempt to make LGBT people invisible, which contradicts the Church’s call to acknowledge, welcome, and include LGBT people:

“As you would know, a powerful way to neutralise nonconforming people whose very existence challenges your church’s prescription for human interaction is to make them invisible. To deny the very existence of gay and lesbian people is to render them unknowable and unseeable. Excluding people in this way sends a message to lesbian and gay people in your church (many of whom I know and see, and I’m not even Catholic) that they will be not be acknowledged by your leadership. To deny recognition is to deny human dignity, a strategy at the heart of homophobia.”

Ms. Judge’s comments examine the desperate attempts by Catholic bishops to maintain their privilege in a society structured around heterosexual relationships and male dominance, adding the unique perspective of a South African to her critique of oppression:

“Sexuality and gender were heavily regulated and constrained under apartheid and colonialism. Women and queers ‘knew their place’ and ‘suffered’ quietly and invisibly. Now we see a burgeoning of sexual and gender diversity – it’s exciting stuff, Cardinal. It’s a sign of a plural and democratising society in which ­difference is no longer synonymous with dysfunction.

“Shunning difference and enforcing conformity is how the church has asserted its control over populations for centuries. But this unchecked grip on power has been slipping in the face of democratic pressures. I feel for you, Cardinal; it’s hard to compete with the divine prospect of freedom and equality…

“Queers and women are laying claim to the resources, recognition and representations of citizenship – both inside and outside the church. It’s the stuff of democracy and of human rights. Still, none so blind as those who will not see.”

Melanie Judge respectfully confronts Cardinal Napier for both the ignorance his statement contains and the the underlying causes driving his anti-LGBT efforts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Palm Sunday, Oscar Romero, and LGBT Human Rights in El Salvador

March 24, 2013

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, when we remember Jesus’ suffering and passion, in anticipation of the great victory of Easter.   This date, March 24th, also is the 33rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was murdered by a military gunman while saying Mass at a hospital chapel.  Archbishop Romero had been an outspoken supporter of human rights in El Salvador, during a time of great repression and unrest that became a terribly bloody civil war.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry make presentations at the first conference on LGBT human rights in El Salvador.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry make presentations at the first conference on LGBT human rights in El Salvador.

Peace exists now in El Salvador, but that nation is once again involved in a great human rights struggle, this time concerning LGBT issues.  A week and a half ago,  I had the great privilege to travel to El Salvador with New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, where both of us participated in that country’s first national conference on LGBT human rights.  We made presentations there on the topic of “Religious Communities as Promoters of Human Rights,” speaking about how the Catholic Church’s human rights and social justice traditions compel Catholics to work to make sure that equality and justice exist for LGBT people.

It was a great honor to participate in this program, and to witness the courage and fortitude of LGBT people and allies who are daily faced with threats of violence if they dare to live openly and honestly about their identities.  The conference, entitled “Happiness and Sexual Diversity as Human Rights,” was sponsored by ALDES, an organization which works for human rights for LGBT Salvadorans both from inside that country and from the United States.   Speakers on the program came from both countries, representing legal, political, religious, and human rights backgrounds.

One of the most amazing things about the conference is that it took place on the campus of the University of Central America, in San Salvador, the capital.  This is a Catholic school, run by the Jesuits–the same place where six Jesuits and their two housekeepers were assassinated during the civil war.   Omar Serrano, the school’s vice-rector for social outreach warmly welcomed the over 300 participants to this revered Catholic institution.

Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte (center) with Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo.

Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte (center) with Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo.

On the eve of the conference’s opening, the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, the Honorable Mari Carmen Aponte, hosted a reception for Salvadoran and United States conference presenters at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador.  Ambassador Aponte, who has written forcefully about the importance of LGBT rights in El Salvador, pledged her support for the conference and for continuing the dialogue between the U.S. and El Salvador on this matter.

Bondings 2.0 will provide further coverage of this important event, but it seemed appropriate to mark it on this day which commemorates the value of redemptive suffering.  The civil war is over in El Salvador,  but a new struggle for human rights and questions of sexual and gender identity have now taken center stage.  May the witness of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and all the Salvadoran martyrs, guide this new struggle peacefully.  May people of faith in El Salvador be as courageous and passionate in speaking up for LGBT equality as Archbishop Romero was in speaking up for the human rights of all people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Pope Francis Has Mixed LGBT Legacy As Archbishop in Argentina

March 15, 2013

Pope Francis

As Pope Francis settles in after initial celebrations, onlookers from all perspectives and places begin to dissect his legacy in Argentina to derive how he may lead from Rome. Bondings 2.0 will provide readers with a variety of commentary and information on Pope Francis as his papacy commences, starting today with an examination of his record on LGBT issues while archbishop.

Most notably, Cardinal Bergoglio presided over the Argentine Church in its failed attempt to stop marriage equality legislation in 2010 when equal rights for marriage were extended to all couples. The then-cardinal spoke of marriage equality in apocalyptic language. He perceived equal rights as a threat to existing families and used the term “war” when referring to the nation’s marriage equality debate.

Katie McDonough at Salon compiled some of Pope Francis’ sharpest critiques of marriage equality, which speak for themselves and include:

“‘Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God’…

“Look at San Jose, Maria, Child and ask them [to] fervently defend Argentina’s family at this time. [Be reminded] what God told his people in a time of great anguish: “This war is not yours but God’s.” May they succor, defend and join God in this war.’”

Pope Francis, as archbishop in Argentina, also spoke strongly against the adoption of children by same-gender couples, which he labeled a form of discrimination and abuse:

“‘At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.’”

On a positive note, Pope Francis is widely revered for his commitment to the marginalized in society. National Catholic Reporter reveals that as Cardinal Bergoglio, he kissed and washed the feet of twelve AIDS patients in 2001 as a show of his “deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS.”

As mixed as this record may be, not all view his record Argentina as the final word now that Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis. Writing in Time, Tim Padgett is keeping his hopes up:

“I want to believe that his history as an advocate for the poor will bring him to see that today’s church is spending an inordinate amount of time, energy and ultimately moral credibility persecuting homosexuals, feminists and other “heretics” while it’s de-prioritizing, at least in the public’s eye, its core Christian (and human) mission of compassion and redemption.”

Whether Pope Francis will experience a shift as he assumes the papacy is known to God alone, but many in the LGBT community hold out for positive movement now that the former pope, Benedict XVI, has retired. Bondings 2.0 will report more thoroughly on signs of hope over the weekend, and further reactions from the Catholic LGBT community and organizations.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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