Ugandan Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law, While Others Call Pope to Condemn It

April 23, 2014

Over the past few weeks, news about Catholic reaction to Uganda’s newly-enacted anti-gay law has shown how insidious homophobia can be within a culture.  The most recent story that caught my attention because is horrific, if true.  I make the qualification “if true” because I have only seen one report about it, which is from an independent blogger, not a professional news source.

Bishop Charles Wamika

The O-blog-dee-O-blog-da site, maintained by Melanie Nathan, a respected lawyer, LGBT advocate, and journalist, reports  that on Easter Sunday, Bishop Charles Wamika of the Jinja Diocese in Uganda

“called for a blessing for Uganda’s Christians who worked so hard to ‘free the land of gays.’  The Bishop also asked for parents to hand over their gay children to authorities, so they would be rewarded in heaven.”

Nathan cites an anonymous Ugandan gay man in hiding with reporting on Wamika’s statements.

A Ugandan newspaper, The Daily Monitor did not mention Wamika in its report of Easter Sunday messages, but it did note that other Catholic bishops in that country also supported the new anti-gay law on Easter Sunday.  The paper reported on the statement of Bishop Augustine Salimo of the Sebei Diocese:

In reference to the Anti-Homosexual Act, he also urged the government not to back down but to continue the right path pursued to protect values of Ugandans.

And a third bishop also praised the new law:

“In Tororo District, Bishop Emmanuel Obbo, the Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, urged every citizen who supported the anti-homosexuality law to lay down greed, corruption and ‘put them to death and let generosity rise up within us and flow out in abundance.

“ ‘In Christ, we have victory over dysfunctional relationships, bad habits, painful experiences, sexual temptation and devastating circumstances,’ he said.”

These statements show that Uganda’s bishops’ minds have been clouded by homophobia to the point that they ignore basic Catholic teaching on the human dignity of all persons–including towards LGBT people.

Catholic hospitals in Uganda are maintaining a non-discrimination policy toward lesbian and gay people, The Observer reported, though the attitude of the hospital’s administrator indicates a negative bias against them.  The news story stated:

“Dr Sam Orach, the executive secretary of Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB), yesterday said although AHA [Anti-Homosexuality Act] criminalises homosexuality, which is also considered a sin in the Church, homosexuals would not be locked out of Catholic hospitals.

“ ‘In the current context of the aftermath of the anti-homosexuality law, no health worker in our facilities has expressed concern that service provision is being affected. That is what we believe as UCMB. We equate this to the post-abortion care we provide to a sick woman who has otherwise criminally and immorally committed abortion.

“We distinguish between a crime or a sin and the disease. Catholic health services are, therefore, non- discriminatory,’ Orach said at the opening of UCMB’s hospital managers’ workshop in Kampala.”

Meanwhile, around the globe, more and more commentators have been calling upon Pope Francis to make a clear statement condemning Uganda’s law and other laws like it that have been appearing in other countries.

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson cited the #PopeSpeakOut campaign as a way to encourage the pope to make a statement against these laws.  Manson wrote:

“Anti-homosexuality legislation is quickly becoming a global threat to human dignity. These laws do not simply violate human rights; they foster a climate of rage, scapegoating, and violence against LGBT people.

“This situation brings to the forefront the ongoing debate among progressive Catholics about the efficacy of the Pope Francis’ kinder, gentler papacy. Some believe Francis’ expressions of compassion will eventually lead to greater inclusion for LGBT Catholics while others argue that Francis’ words are not substantive enough to amount to real change.

“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’ “

And in Australia, the head of Rainbow Sash, a Catholic LGBT organization, last week called on Pope Francis to use Easter as the occasion to speak out against anti-LGBT laws. The Star Observer quotes Michael Kelly as saying:

“The whole experience of Easter is about moving from slavery to freedom for persecuted people.

“It would be the perfect time for Pope Francis to make a statement that could be heard around the world about justice for people being persecuted right now in Africa. . . .”

“You can see the seeds of what could be genocide so people abroad have to stand up.”

Ugandan religious leaders thank President Museveni (far right) for signing the nation’s anti-gay law. Catholic Archbishop Charles Lwanga stands next to Museveni.

Writing in The Atlantic Matt Ford pointed out that Arcbhisop Charles Lwanga of Kampala, the head of the Catholic Church in Uganda, offered a closing prayer at a rally staged by the country’s President Yoweri Museveni to celebrate the signing of the anti-gay law. Many other national religious leaders took part in the event, even giving a plaque to the president to thank him for support of the law.

Yet, Ford also notes that, significantly, Pope Francis has turned down an invitation to visit Uganda to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs, who resisted a native king’s homosexual advances.   Perhaps it was good that Pope Francis rejected the invitation to the event since it could easily have been used to suggest his support for the new law.  But, as Ford points out, Francis can not be silent forever:

“This time around, it seems, Pope Francis is not taking Uganda’s Catholic leaders up on their invitation to visit the shrine—at least not yet. But regardless of whether he travels to the country, will he take a public position on the debate over homosexuality in Uganda—and similar debates taking place elsewhere in the world?

“The pontiff’s tenure, now in its second year, has so far been characterized by two themes: greater compassion on social issues in the developed world, and greater outreach to and inclusion of the developing world. Until now, these goals have rarely clashed. How he bridges the divide between the two in Uganda, if he chooses to try, will be one of the great challenges of his papacy.”

You can help urge Pope Francis to speak out by participating in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.  Send him an email or a tweet today!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Why Has Pope Francis Been Silent on Anti-Gay Laws?

April 3, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ response, or, more accurately, his lack of response to the passage of anti-gay laws and policies in places like Uganda, Nigeria, India, Russia, has been one of the more puzzling questions of the past few months for those interested in Catholic LGBT issues.  This pope, who has expressed a greater openness toward LGBT human rights than any of his predecessors, and who has not shown any timidity on speaking out on controversial social issues has remained strangely silent on this vicious trend toward more repressive anti-gay laws.

Two recent essays analyze the papal silence. Both are worth reading in full, and contemplating seriously.  I will summarize both, but recommend that you follow the links to read the entire articles.

Michael O’Loughlin, a Catholic free-lance journalist who writes about LGBT issues, has tackled the question of the pope’s silence in a Foreign Policy essay entitled, “Francis’s Papal Bull: Why is a progressive pope allowing anti-gay bishops to preach hate?”      Jamie Manson, a National Catholic Reporter columnist struck a similar note in her recent essay, “In Uganda, an opportunity for Pope Francis to act on his words.”

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

O’Loughlin begins by noting that Pope Francis recently met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who signed the anti-gay bill.  Yet, other than a vague statement about protecting human rights, the pope made no reference to the new law.  O’Loughlin also describes local Catholic support and complicity for the new repressive measures in Africa:

Catholic bishops in Nigeria, in a letter to Jonathan, heralded the new law as “courageous” and “a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.” They weren’t the only religious leaders happy with a stepping-up of repression against gay Africans. In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that threatens openly gay Ugandans with lifetime prison sentences. While Catholic leaders rejected the 2009 version of the bill, which contained an infamous death penalty provision, some bishops — as well as Anglican and Orthodox leaders – have been vocal in their support of the most recent measure. (Africa is the Roman Catholic Church’s fastest-growing region, in terms of membership.)

After examining the many ways that Francis has opened up the conversation about LGBT people in the Church over the past year,  O’Loughlin speculates as to what might be the pope’s reason for silence:

“The disconnect between the pope’s words and actions stems partly from the fact that Pope Francis appears hesitant to become involved with what the Vatican considers local issues, which includes national laws punishing gay people for their sexual orientation. And although counterintuitive, this hesitance actually reflects a certain liberalism about the internal dynamics of the church: Catholic progressives, used to the rigid, authoritarian rule of Rome over the past few decades, have long wanted to see the devolution of power away from the Vatican. This was the only way, they believed, that lay people — with more access to bishops than to Rome’s highest echelons — could gain some input in the church’s decision-making processes.”

But, such a reason is not enough to justify his silence, O’Loughlin suggests. He calls on the pope to become a more vocal advocate for justice for LGBT people, if his initial gestures and statements are to have any real meaning:

“Yet if he truly wants to move forward, he will have to build on his initial outreach and ask, publicly, that Catholic bishops and other leaders keep up. If the pope truly wants the Catholic Church to chart a course for social justice around the world, his leadership on this issue must demonstrate that his powerful institution is a genuine voice for the oppressed.”

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Pope Francis’ leadership in regard to these repressive laws is needed since local bishops have been so quick to support the anti-gay measures.  Nigerian bishops were explicit in their support of the new law in their nation.  Ugandan bishops, at first, were silent about their country’s law, but, as Jamie Manson points out in her column:

“That was until Monday, when, at a ‘thanksgiving’ celebration for the new law held in Kampala, their actions spoke louder than words.

“International media outlets reported that the thanksgiving rally and ceremony was organized by a nonspecific ‘coalition of religious leaders.’ But a photo in one of Uganda’s major newspapers revealed that Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala not only attended the thanksgiving celebration, he was part of a contingent of five clergymen (including a Muslim sheikh, a Pentecostal bishop and an Anglican bishop) who gave Museveni an engraved plaque to congratulate him for signing the bill.

A YouTube video also shows Lwanga offering prayers at the ceremony for those ‘led astray in this vice of homosexuality.’ “

Manson notes why Catholic opinion is so important in Uganda:

“An estimated 44 percent of Uganda is Catholic, which suggests that the Roman Catholic hierarchy holds significant influence over the beliefs of the people and the development of public policy. By offering public praise of Museveni’s signing of this law, Lwanga has given his blessing to legislation that violates the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual orientation is not a choice and that gays and lesbians should not be subjected to violence or social discrimination.”

She concludes with a call to the pope to exercise his leadership by putting substance behind his words:

“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

“The global crisis of anti-homosexuality laws calls Pope Francis not only to uphold church doctrine, but to act on his own pastoral words — words that have inspired many to believe that the Catholic church has entered a new era of justice and dignity for the LGBT community worldwide.”

Both O’Loughlin and Manson mentioned New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, now entering its third month.  We, and other Catholic and LGBT groups have been asking people to send a tweet to the pope, asking him to speak out against this trend toward more repressive anti-LGBT laws.  You can read more about the campaign here.  And if you want to send a tweet or email to the pope, those tasks will be made easier for you if you check out our helpful resource by clicking here.

It is important for the pope to speak out.  It is equally important for Catholics around the globe to speak out to the pope to let him know that our lived Catholic faith has taught us that anti-LGBT laws are not acceptable at all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Why Bishops’ Religious Liberty Arguments on ENDA Fail

November 9, 2013

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would provide federal job protections for LGBT employees, passed a major hurdle this week when the U.S. Senate voted 64-32 to pass it. The bill now passes to the House of Representatives, where a less certain fate awaits it.

As Bondings 2.0 reported earlier this week, the U.S. bishops are opposing the legislation based on a variety of reasons including their concerns that the law will separate gender from biological sex, that it will promote homosexual activity, and that it will infringe on religious liberty.

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson reflected this week on the bishops’ opposition to to ENDA, noting that it seems that their major concern is the religious liberty claim.  After summarizing their objections, Manson writes:

“All of this adds up to their ultimate concern: ENDA threatens religious liberty. The bill threatens to punish the church by treating the teachings of the Catholic faith as discrimination. The exemption for religious employers is uncertain, they insist, and they are convinced that even exempted employers will face government retaliation.

“Even with this litany of complaints, the bishops conclude their letter insisting that they are ready to work with ‘all people of good will to end all forms of unjust discrimination, including against those who experience same sex attraction.’

“The bishops declare they want to work to fight LGBT discrimination in the very same document where they use remarkably discriminatory ideas.

“Not only do they want to continue to fight for their right to fire and discriminate against LGBT employees, they call all same-sex relationships extramarital behavior unworthy of protection, and they negate the deep experience of transgender persons. With thoughts like these, one shudders to think what their version of ENDA might read like.”

And, as is true with many issues of LGBT equality, the bishops’ opinions are not in synch with the rest of the U.S. Catholic popoulation, the majority of which support ENDA’s principles.  Manson writes:

“Perhaps saddest of all, the bishops make these claims even in light of a recent poll that 76 percent of Catholics in the U.S. support ENDA, marking yet another episode in which the conscience of the majority of Catholics is at odds with the unabashed monologue of the Catholic hierarchy.”

The religious liberty arguments the bishops make are not even relevant since ENDA already supplies exemptions for employment sites that are primarily religious in nature.  The bishops’ insistence on maintaining this claim seems more like fear-mongering than legitimate objections.   It’s time for them to retire this song.

David DeCrosse, the director of campus ethics programs at Santa Clara University, California, offered the bishops a new way of discussing religious liberty.  In a National Catholic Reporter essay, DeCrosse, writing about religious liberty generally, suggests a new theological approach to the topic:

“The great 20th-century theologian Redemptorist Fr. Bernard Häring proposed a better way for the church to promote religious freedom in a manner consistent with the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Häring argued that the church should not primarily seek freedom for itself — a seeking that regrettably characterizes the bishops’ religious liberty campaign — but should instead consider itself a sacrament of the liberty and liberation of all. Thus the church must both seek its own freedom and proclaim the freedom of conscience of all, whether or not such freedom has any immediate connection to the church’s doctrine or practice. In Häring’s arguments, we see the balance missing from the religious liberty campaign of the bishops in which concerns for the freedom of the church subsume concerns about freedom of conscience.”

He makes an important point which explains why so many religious people are uncomfortable with the way the bishops have been using religious liberty language.   Many religious people (and non-religious people, too) want church institutions to be able to exercise their faiths freely, but they also want, as a matter of religious principle, for all people’s consciences to be respected.

In the particular case of ENDA, Manson points to how this principle of balancing liberty and conscience can be applied by the bishops:

“Ultimately, the only way to get the hierarchy to call off the religious liberty dogs will be by transforming their understanding of the dignity, value and gifts of LGBT employees.”

Until the bishops start to show that they respect LGBT people as full human beings and citizens, their laments about religious liberty will continue to ring hollow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Issues Pervade 2013 Call to Action Conference

November 4, 2013

Call To Action 2013 Plenary Session

LGBT Catholic issues pervaded Call to Action’s 2013 conference this past weekend as progressive Catholics gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to organize for a more justice and inclusive Church and society. Bondings 2.0 offers a round-up from the weekend to show how central acceptance, welcome, and justice for all sexual orientations and gender identities is in broader efforts for Church renewal.

On Friday, New Ways Ministry co-founder Jeannine Gramick, SL joined other prophetic voices in a daylong reflection on conscience, sponsored by the 8th Day Center for Justice. Gramick spoke about her four decades in ministry among the LGBT community and her struggles with the institutional Church that resulted from this work.

A La Familia also hosted a seminar on the same day focusing on acceptance within Latino families of LGBTQ members, which was hosted by Lisbeth Melendez Rivera and Rose Manriquez.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Saturday’s plenary session featured writer and LGBT advocate Jamie Manson, a Catholic lesbian woman whose reflections on intergenerational companionship this blog recently profiled. She joined a panel on the future of Catholic ministry, and when speaking on inclusivity, Manson said:

“It used to be prophetic to include women and LGBT people. For the new generation, it’s not prophetic. It’s just common sense.”

Manson also spoke of the many young adults who are educated in theology and ministry, but unable to answer their call to leadership in the Church because of, among other obstacles, their sexual orientations and gender identities. Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll priest forced out of his community for supporting women’s ordination, echoed these sentiments, saying the Church’s many years of prayers for more vocations would be answered if only those who want to serve as priests were allowed entry.

World Youth Day participants from Equally Blessed

Saturday also featured several workshops highlighting the need for LGBT justice in Catholic and civil communities. These included:

  • “Why the Church, for its Own Salvation, Needs Our Queer Sisters and Brothers” led by Miguel De La Torre;
  • “Same-Sex Marriage and Beyond: The Catholic Imperative for LGBT Equality” led by Marianne Duddy-Burke;
  • “Sharing the Message of Equally Blessed: Stories from the Pilgrimage to World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” led by members of CTA 20/30 and Dignity Young Adult Caucus;
  • “LGBT Catholics Standing Together: Intergenerational Issues” led by Jeannine Gramick, SL and Bob Shine;
  • Caucuses by Fortunate Families for parents of LGBT children and by Catholics for Marriage Equality for those in Illinois, and Equally Blessed.

Loretto Volunteers helping with marriage equality in Maryland

On Sunday morning, Call to Action’s Leadership Award was granted to the Loretto Volunteers, a program of the Loretto Community that offers a year of service for young adults in an LGBT-affirming atmosphere rooted in the Catholic tradition. New Ways Ministry is one of the host sites for the Loretto Volunteers.

Following that, Marianne Duddy-Burke of Dignity USA offered a homily during the conference’s closing liturgy. Speaking on the story of Zacchaeus, she proposed modern exclusionary labels equivalent to “taxpayer” that included gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and the parent of an LGBT child.

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Flipping the narrative, Duddy-Burke asked attendees to place themselves in the position of Jesus, who called Zacchaeus out of the tree and into life. Jesus saw Zacchaeus as a human being with a profound need and engaged that alone, thus Catholics must do the same no matter how different or unlikable people crying out may be.  In conclusion, she envisioned a Church where the only label that makes a difference is beloved Child of God.

Given these speakers and workshops, there is not only widespread need, but also excitement around building up inclusive Catholic communities where LGBT people, their loved ones, families, friends, and allies are all welcomed. You can check out Call to Action’s website for more information on several of these programs described. For further reflections from Jeannine Gramick and Bob Shine on how diverse generations engaged around LGBT issues, check Bondings 2.0 later this week.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


March on Washington Can Teach Catholic Church About Equality

August 30, 2013

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Millions of Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on Wednesday, an historic event where Civil Rights leaders demanded equality before the law and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Behind the March’s success was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who brilliantly lead organizing efforts, and who, according to Jamie Manson, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers insights for the Catholic Church today.

The March was an unprecedented protest with over 250,000 people participating.  It influenced policymakers to pass civil rights legislation just months afterwards. Bayard Rustin’s pivotal role was nearly forgotten, partly because he was an openly gay man, but is being raised up now by LGBT advocacy groups and others during current commemorations.

Manson explains  that it was Rustin who introduced Rev. King to nonviolent resistance. Rustin had begun advocating for civil rights as early as the 1940s, developed the first Freedom Ride, and first thought up the March on Washington. Yet, as influential and respected as Rustin was within the Civil Rights movement’s leadership, being gay meant discrimination of a different kind:

“Fearing that the demonstrations [outside the 1960 Democratic National Convention planned by Rev. King and Rustin] would undermine his own power, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., an African-American congressman from Harlem, N.Y., insisted they cancel the protest. If they refused, Powell threatened to claim Rustin and King were having an affair.

“Of course, there was no affair, but King surrendered to Powell’s demands, and Rustin was forced to resign and remove himself from the movement he helped shape…

“A month before the [1963] march, news of Rustin’s sexuality resurfaced. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reported Rustin’s morals charge to segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond. Taking to the Senate floor, Thurmond declared Rustin a “Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual…”

Fortunately, Strom Thurmond’s antics were repelled by civil rights leaders who supported Rustin in that moment and, Manson points out, it is unlikely that a person’s sexual orientation would cause them censure among contemporary activists. However, Manson wonders about the situation in the Catholic Church and American religious institutions:

“Our churches are home to many LGBT people who make outstanding contributions to the life of the church as lay ministers, teachers, hospital workers, women religious and priests. Many are forced to be silent, however, because some in the church believe their sexual identities discredit or taint their work.

“Anyone who believes that prejudice in our church is passing away is either unaware of or in denial about the hundreds of exceptional LGBT Catholics who, every year, are fired from jobs, uninvited from speaking in churches, or denied participation in church ministry because of their honesty about their sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Rustin’s life reminds us that, not too long ago, most of our culture believed a person’s sexual identity could somehow taint or discredit the knowledge, talent and gifts he or she brings to a community. His story invites us to recognize and challenge the ways in which this toxic and often subconscious belief is still playing out in our churches, communities and families.”

Frequent readers of Bondings 2.0 know experiences of discrimination and exclusion for LGBT Catholics and their allies are all too common in parishes, schools, and social service agencies. Employees with years of job experience are fired for supporting equal rights, couples committed to each other for decades are denied Communion, and priests face expulsion for attempting to offer pastorally-sensitive approaches.

The harm done against these devoted church members is terrible, but just as troubling is the loss of their gifts within our communities and it leaves one thinking: What if the Church is expelling a contemporary Bayard Rustin because she or he is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender? With so much work to be done on behalf of a more just, equitable world, the Church cannot afford this.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Have We Painted Pope Francis’ Gay Comments Too Optimistically?

August 2, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

This week has been a heady one, with hopes and dreams of a more LGBT-inclusive church running high, thanks to Pope Francis’ remarks in his airplane press conference on the way back from Brazil.  We’ve tried to give you a variety of points of view on this news story, and you can read our previous samplings here and here.

Today, we are offering some more challenging perspectives than we have previously.  They are perspectives which are critical of Pope Francis’ statements, but what makes them particularly challenging is that they comes from people who are progressive Catholics who work for reform in the church along more liberal lines.   Both of these commentators are people who I think of as sharp church observers, so I think it is important to take their opinions into consideration.  After summarizing their arguments, I will offer my own opinion, and I hope that you will offer YOUR opinions in the “Comments” section of this post.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, sums up her critique of the pope’s statements and people’s responses in the headline question: “When does our hope for Francis become denial?”   Manson examines the pope’s LGBT comments in the context of the full press conference where he also denied the possibility of ordaining women, and spoke about pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics.  The gist of her critique is in the bulleted section of her essay, excerpted here:

  • “In terms of his much-touted use of the word “gay,” I believe he used it not so much as a sign of respect but because the word was being used in the context of the rumored “gay lobby.” Few people still know what this mysterious lobby inside the Curia is or what precisely they are advocating for (clearly it isn’t LGBT rights), but Francis was again clear he was not pleased with this lobby, saying he needed to distinguish whether a person was gay or part of the gay lobby.
  • “After Francis delivered his now-legendary “Who am I to judge?” line, he immediately reaffirmed the teaching of the catechism. He may not have used the “intrinsically disordered” phrase, but he did make it clear that “the tendency isn’t the problem.” Obviously, same-sex acts and same-sex marriage still are the problem. The real question I think he was asking was, “Who am I to judge a celibate gay person who seeks the Lord and is of goodwill?”
  • “While his words about a new approach to divorced and remarried Catholics were encouraging, they were couched in his mentioning that a new “pastoral care of marriage” was being developed. My sense is the main thrust of initiative will be to make the boldest Roman Catholic declaration yet that marriage is between one man and one woman. Remember that just two years ago, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he called same-sex marriage an “anthropological setback,” and on the plane, he affirmed the church’s opposition to marriage equality.
  • “Pope Francis’ words about women were spirit-breaking. The idea that we need a “deeper theology of women” is remarkable only because, for the past half-century, Catholic women theologians, many of them women religious, have been developing, writing and teaching a profound theology of women. Just because the hierarchy has not cared to read it doesn’t mean it doesn’t already exist. I shudder to think whom Francis would ask to formulate this “deeper theology.”
  • “As a woman who has discerned a calling to the priesthood for more than 20 years, Francis’ hiding behind John Paul II’s theology and claiming that the “door is closed” on the ordination issue was profoundly painful. Hearing these words, I felt the same kind of humiliation I would have experienced if a door had literally been slammed in my face.
  • “Francis got some positive attention for saying women are more important than priests and bishops, even if they have no chance of being ordained. In essence, he said even though women will never have ecclesial decision-making power or the opportunity to exercise sacramental ministry, they are so much more special than the men who get to run and lead the church.

Manson draws from these insights the following ideas:

“Are we truly listening to the full context of what Francis is saying, or are we just hearing what our hearts most deeply want to hear? It is important to be people of hope, but at what point does being hopeful and optimistic slip into avoidance and denial of what this man truly believes? “I realize Catholics are starving for inspiring, authentic pastoral leadership, but honesty and solidarity demand that we speak out against unjust, spiritually harmful words, even if they are coming from a charismatic figure in whom we desperately want to believe and trust. “I want to be hopeful that Francis might have a transformation. Personally, my heart has a deep investment in it: I would love to be able to return to active Catholic ministry again, and I want all of the exceptional women and LGBT Catholics who have the ability to spiritually lead and inspire to be able to answer God’s calling. . . . “But there was nothing Francis said on that plane that leads me to think we are any closer to either of these possibilities. I remain hopeful justice will come someday, but I think it is important to accept the reality that the residual effects of a patriarchal, homophobic, clerical formation can still dwell within a man who is otherwise committed to justice and deeply pastoral.”

And her conclusion:

“If we cannot be honest about what this pope believes, and if we refuse to criticize him when criticism is justified, we could run the risk of giving the Vatican public relations machine exactly what it wants: a return to the days when the pope was an object of affection, adulation and unequivocal goodwill — no questions asked.”

Jon O'Brien

Jon O’Brien

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, in an essay on The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, is reluctant to give the mantle of “reformer” to the new pope, wondering if all the good-will exhibited are more publications than substance.  O’Brien notes:

“Catholics desperately want change in our church, and Pope Francis is being heralded inTime magazine and on almost every major network and newspaper as the one who will deliver it. But before we pronounce him the patron saint of reform, we should step back and take a critical look at whether his gestures indicate a true metamorphosis or are simply a media-friendly rhetorical shift.”

O’Brien backs up his thesis with several pieces of evidence:

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and recent actions by the new administration have a familiar taste. At two meetings at the U.N. in June, the Vatican’s representative stood up to oppose sexual and reproductive health, just as he and his predecessors have always done. Pope Francis talks of compassion for poor but has done nothing to change the hierarchy’s ban on contraception, something that would help interrupt the cycle of poverty perpetuated in developing nations where lifesaving contraception is unavailable. Time and time again, the Catholic hierarchy and its charities prevent people from accessing the means to control their own fertility. “Pope Francis may have spared us the usual lecture about abortion but we can’t expect much movement on this issue. His predecessors were more insistent in delivering the anti-choice party line, their words falling on ears that are not deaf, but belonging to individuals fully able to interpret their own consciences. Parishioners easily recognize yet another instance of celibate men who, unable to understand the reality and complexity of family life, choose to condemn so many in our church. “Pope Francis did state that he won’t judge gay people, but continues to deny them the right to express their love in the same way as do heterosexuals, with perpetual chastity seemingly the only sanctioned option for LGBT faithful. He also forgave the sins of gay clergy, knowing that the church would grind to a halt were he to make sexual orientation a litmus test for prospective priests and nuns. “But when Francis was asked about the role of women in church, and the possibility that one day the church could enjoy the gifts of ordained women, he insisted that door was closed.”

O’Brien’s conclusion:

“The doors and windows in the Vatican have been closed for a very long time. The air is stale. Faithful Catholics pray for real transformation—perhaps through Pope Francis. Wherever change comes from, one thing is clear: the winds of change need to blow through the whole church, especially the Vatican. Those few acres in Rome are the epicenter of a conservative brand of Catholicism promoted by the hierarchy that has little to do with the way everyday Catholics live and believe. The Francis-dictated fashion for plain cassocks over splendid robes notwithstanding, Catholics want a change of heart from the entrenched leadership, a revolution that would earn rank-and-file Catholics’ vote for sainthood.”

You can also view a BBC-TV  video of an interview with O’Brien in which he makes some of these points, as well as some different ones, here:

So what to make of these critiques?  In one sense, they both make an important point with which I agree:  we need to evaluate Pope Francis on his actions.   I agree that the pope’s words will be empty if he doesn’t follow up on them, and we have seen this happen recently by a church leader.  In the spring, Cardinal Timothy Dolan made headlines with a gay-positive message, but then followed it up with a tragically hurtful blog post, backing off from the statement.

Patrick Hornbeck

Patrick Hornbeck

But, in another sense, aren’t words also actions? Words do have significance, and, as many have pointed out,  the shift in tone from Benedict to Francis on has been significant.  Patrick Hornbeck, a theology professor at Fordham University, noted the word change significance in a Washington Post “On Faith” blog post titled “Pope Francis shows it’s okay to say ‘gay’.”  Hornbeck notes the significance of Pope Francis’ use of the word “gay,”  while at the same time cautioning against hopes running too high:

“It is indeed cause for celebration that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church has named a contingent of fellow human beings with the words that they have chosen to name themselves and that his predecessors often denied to them. Even though they did not occur in the context of an official Vatican statement, Pope Francis’ remarks will be warmly welcomed by the majorities of U.S. Catholics who support nondiscrimination laws, adoption by same-sex couples, and equal legal recognition for committed same-sex relationships. Let this optimism be cautious, however: the pope did not endorse any specific changes in Catholic teaching, and there is nothing in his statement that commits him to doing so in the future.

“While much work remains to be done to bring about the full equality of all citizens and believers, Monday Pope Francis  simply and empathetically named what was once considered unnameable. He thus follows in the footsteps of his most significant predecessor, who lived two millennia ago and was also known to dine with outcasts and call them by name.”

Hornbeck is right in pointing out that the pope’s comment have not changed church teaching, but what I think is important is that Francis put emphasis on the teaching that has been too infrequently taught:  the human dignity of ALL people.

Manson and O’Brien both have an important point about Pope Francis’ rejection of women’s ordination.  On Monday, when I was reading the news of the press conference,  my initial elation at the gay comment almost disappeared when I read about the pope’s ban on women’s ordination.  I felt the same way that I felt back in June when the U.S. Supreme Court’s supportive marriage equality decision came  right after their repeal of the Voting Rights Act.  In both cases, steps toward equality and justice were connected to steps backward, too.  Celebrations were certainly muted by these retrograde moves.

I appreciate the thought-provoking positions of all three of these writers.  They help me think more critically about these issues.  I still believe there is much to celebrate in the pope’s statement.  (For New Ways Ministry’s position, click here.)  But what matters most is not what has been said, but what will be done–for LGBT people and women in the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


DignityUSA National Convention Focuses in on Justice

July 13, 2013

DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, met in convention last weekend in Minneapolis to reflect on the theme of “Let Justice Flow Like a River.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler at Dignity convention.

Sister Maureen Fiedler at Dignity convention.

Convention keynoter and National Catholic Reporter blogger, Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, recently wrote about how the “justice” theme was woven throughout the meeting:

“This year, the planners clearly wanted members to connect the quest for LGBT justice and other struggles for justice. Thus, I was invited to keynote the conference by speaking on the social teaching of the church, raising themes of economic justice, world peace, nondiscrimination, the rights of immigrants, gender equality and respect for Earth.

“Jaime Manson (of NCR fame!) gave a marvelous address on the ‘intersections of justice.’ The idea is that issues of justice cannot be separated; they must “roll down like a mighty stream.” She joined everyone at the conference in cheering the Supreme Court decisions overturning DOMA and Prop 8 in California. But she said she did so with a heavy heart because of the SCOTUS decision the day before that gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She praised DignityUSA groups in Minnesota who realized in November they had to oppose not just an amendment to their state constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage but another amendment also on the ballot restricting voting rights. For the record, both amendments lost, a victory for justice.”

As part of the justice theme,  New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo and DignityUSA’s Program Manager Jim Smith presented a workshop on how to organize Catholics on justice issues.

Jim Smith

Jim Smith

In an article in Lavender Magazine preceding the convention, Smith explained a dilemma that many Catholics face:

“GLBT Catholics and progressive Catholics in general get hassled from both sides of the holy water font. One one side, from some non-Catholics and former Catholics who wonder aloud–quite reasonably enough–why queer and progressive people would keep the ‘Roman Catholic’ when it appears Rome and its local representatives would rather they take up space in somebody else’s church. On the other side, from many within the Catholic church hierarchy and some in the pews who in fact do want the queers gone for good.

“But whose church is it anyway? Many Roman Catholics, including scores of thousands in Minnesota, understand that when they first got their head wet at that above-mentioned font, they were baptized to one day own their faith, follow the Jesus of the Gospels, and let a well-informed conscience be their guide. Sometimes that means  keeping the “Catholic” while standing up and speaking truth to power.  And that they did, in Minnesota last year and this, and in very Catholic states like Rhode Island, Maryland, and Delaware.”

Martin Grochala

Martin Grochala

In the same article,  Convention Chair Martin Grochala explained the organization’s hopes for the meeting:

“Attendees will return home with skills for addressing injustice in their communities and with a clear understanding of what have been proven to be successful advocacy strategies.  The work at this conference will be rooted in an understanding of Catholic social justice teaching through the lens of the LGBTQ experience. We will ask attendees to look seriously at justice issues in their communities -in both the LGBTQ and broader civic and religious communities.”

Fr. Roy Bourgeois

Fr. Roy Bourgeois

At the convention’s dinner dance,  DignityUSA honored Fr. Roy Bourgeois with their “Risk Taker and Justice Maker Award.” Bourgeois, the founder of  School of the Americas Watch was ejected from the Maryknoll community because of his strong suppport for the ordination of women.

The convention received sad news on its third day when members learned that a past president of DignityUSA, James Bussen, had died of cancer. A long-time national and local leader in Chicago,  Bussen had served as president from 1985-1989.  A Windy City Times obituary recounted his many accomplishments,  and offered the following praise from Chris Pett, president of Dignity/Chicago:

James Bussen

James Bussen

“He was a prophet and courageous presence who could effectively challenge and demand accountability from Catholic church leadership to recognize the dignity and inherent blessedness of God’s LGBT people. But he also could, with gentleness and prayerful discernment, call the local and national Dignity communities, and others who share our mission, to claim respect for our lives and loves, while remaining faithful to God’s call for us to live generously, justly and with total love for one another. We can only hope and trust that his legacy will continue to inspire people of faith within our movement, and those around us, to seek justice and continually speak truth into action.”

The next DignityUSA convention, which is held every two years, will be in July 2015 in Seattle.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Reflecting on SCOTUS: Voting Rights, Marriage, the Bishops, and the Future

June 29, 2013

Catholic commentators continue to reflect upon the two Supreme Court marriage decisions this week, and their intellectual and personal musings are too good to pass by.  We present you with a patchwork of summaries and excerpts for you to consider as you do your own reflections on this week’s events.

Two writers have noted the sad juxtaposition of Supreme Court decisions this week.  On Tuesday, the Court unfairly dismantled the Voting Rights Act, greatly restricting justice, and on Wednesday, the Court decided two cases in favor of marriage equality.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson noted that she was celebrating the marriage equality victories

“with a heavy heart, knowing full well that, unlike Wednesday, the Supreme Court rulings that took place Tuesday were not a great moment for America, justice or civil rights.”

Manson notes both the moral and practical connections that exist between the Voting Rights Act and LGBT equality:

“The fight against voter suppression laws and the fight for LGBT rights share some deep connections. At the most fundamental level, both are civil rights battles for equal protection under the law. In the same way that LGBT activists have asked other victims of discrimination to identify with our struggle, LGBT people must continue to foster the bonds of identity and solidarity across communities of justice-seekers.

“At a strategic level, LGBT activists must also consider the ways in which voter suppression could undermine the fight for equality in the 35 states where same-sex marriage continues to be illegal. If right-wing lawmakers are successful in restricting voter eligibility among the disenfranchised, LGBT civil rights will be as vulnerable as government entitlements, civil liberties, collective bargaining and protections for immigrants.”

Daniel Horan, OFM

Daniel Horan, OFM

Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, on his blog DatingGod.comalso noted the disappointment in the Voting Rights case, and noted that the U.S. bishops’ characterization of the marriage decisions as “tragic” seemed misplaced:

“[W]hile the Tuesday decision might rightly be called ‘tragic’ for its short-sightedness and lack of historical appreciation for the crimes and abuses against women and men of color in the south, the decisions on Wednesday were absolutely not tragic. That anyone would say that — and this quote has circulated widely in subsequent days — strikes me as quite appalling. Wednesday’s decisions, as best I can tell, affect no one for the worse. They do not threaten different-sex marriages. They do not ruin the foundations of our society. They do not do anything but provide another step to guarantee that all human beings have the right to be treated like other human beings in the United States. We’ve come as a society to recognize, oftentimes too slowly, the need for these legal protections with regard to sex, race, and now sexual orientation — all things inherent to a person and outside one’s control. . . . Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes reiterates the need the church has to recognize the legitimate role of governments to protect the rights of all people regardless of this inherent characteristics of their personhood:

‘If the citizens’ responsible cooperation is to produce the good results which may be expected in the normal course of political life, there must be a statute of positive law providing for a suitable division of the functions and bodies of authority and an efficient and independent system for the protection of rights. The rights of all persons, families and groups, and their practical application, must be recognized, respected and furthered, together with the duties binding on all citizen (no. 75).’

“All persons, families, and groups!”

Mark SilkMark Silk, a professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life,  offered a very Catholic way for “How the bishops can live with Same-Sex Marriage” in a Religion News Service essay with that title.  In it, Silk points out how “marriage” is used frequently as an analogy in Catholicism to describe other realities.  A nun is sometimes considered married to Christ, a bishop is considered married to his diocese.

Using this very Catholic notion of analogical thinking, Silk suggests that the bishops do the same for thinking about  lesbian and gay couples who marry:

“In the USCCB’s letter condemning the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone write, ‘Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.’

“Sure, guys, but in your book marriage is not only that. So what if same-sex civil marriage is not oriented toward biological procreation and achieved sacramentally in a Catholic church? Use your analogical imaginations.”

Thomas Bushlack

Thomas Bushlack

Finally, one of the more profound reflections on this week’s news comes from Thomas Bushlack, a professor of moral theology at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Writing on the blog PoliticalTheology.com, Bushlack recognizes that with DOMA struck down, we are in a new political, cultural, and theological moment:

“We are clearly in the middle of a fairly rapid cultural turning point regarding the moral and legal status of same-sex couples, and the views of many Americans are tethered to and influenced by the underlying theological issues that inform their opinions.  Despite the plurality of voices within these theological debates, one thing seems certain: what was once taken as a commonplace definition of marriage as between one man and one woman can no longer be assumed.”

This new “moment” means giving up some of old ways of thinking and acting:

“I believe that efforts on the part of individual Christians and church leaders . . . to solidify the legal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman has neither served to promote the common good nor to facilitate the preaching of the Gospel.  Even if one agrees with the theological and moral arguments against same-sex marriage (and there is clearly not consensus here), it has not appeared obvious to the majority of Christians that this necessarily entails prohibiting it in a civic and legal arena.  The Supreme Court decisions offered today reflect this general public sense that same sex couples deserve the equal protection conferred by the Fifth Amendment – regardless of the theological and moral issues involved (which the courts are not competent to judge anyways).”

Most importantly, Bushlack offers some important advice on moving forward for both detractors and supporters of marriage equality:

“If I were to offer my opinion with regard to the best way for theologians and church leaders to move forward following today’s rulings, it would be to reassess our rhetoric. For those opposed to civil recognition of same-sex marriage, the argument that allowing same-sex marriage will have a negative impact upon the common good of society has been found unconvincing, not least because there is little tangible evidence to back it up. And there is no logical step from a theological argument based on Genesis 1 to inscribing “one man, one woman” into civil law. For those of us who support the extension of greater legal protections and rights to same-sex couples, we need to refrain from gloating and find ways to remain united as a church with a common goal of spreading the Gospel even amidst vehement disagreement.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue providing you with links to relevant commentary on this past week’s historic decisions.  You might also want to read our previous posts on the topic:

June 26, 2013: New Ways Ministry Welcomes Supreme Court Decisions on Marriage Equality

June 27, 2013: Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Decisions Continue to Pour In

June 28, 2013: After SCOTUS, Shifts to State Level Struggles Begin

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Decisions Continue to Pour In

June 27, 2013

The euphoria over yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality is continuing unabated by Catholics and LGBT advocates.

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Perhaps the most amazingly Catholic quotation from the decisions was the phrase written by Catholic Justice Anthony Kennedy in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, released the following statement yesterday:

 

Equally Blessed Logo“As members of the Catholic Church and citizens of the United States, we are elated that the U. S. Supreme Court has both struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for marriage equality in the state of California. We are especially pleased to see that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote the opinion striking down DOMA, and that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is also a Catholic, concurred in this historic decision.

“While we would have preferred the Court to find the California law prohibiting same-sex marriage to be clearly unconstitutional, in dismissing the case, the Court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in that state.

“Catholics around the country have worked hard to pass legislation that permits same-sex couples to marry, and protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. They have done so not in spite of their faith, but because of it, knowing that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and that all of God’s children must be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.

“The court today has removed two obstacles blocking the path to justice for same-sex couples, but that path must still be walked. So today we celebrate and offer prayers of thanksgiving, and tomorrow we invite our fellow Catholics to join us in working to bring marriage equality to the states in which it has not yet been written into law.”

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

Both the National Catholic Reporter and Whispers In the Loggia reported on reactions from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other marriage equality opponents.

Bryan Cones, on U.S. Catholic’s blog wondered if the Supreme Court decisions will persuade the bishops to tone down their campaign against marriage equality and instead engage in dialogue with LGBT people:

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones

“I for one would hope for a kind of pause on the bishops’ approach to this question: It should be obvious now that, on the civil side of things, same-sex couples have convinced Americans that they deserve access to the civil benefits of marriage. We in the church need to be having our own conversations about the religious institution of marriage and the religious meaning of human sexuality–long a monologue from the hierarchy that has not included the voices of lay people, married, single, gay, bisexual, or straight. Our own deliberations may lead us to new conclusions, or it may lead to a reaffirmation of old ones. But the signs of the times, today’s rulings included, demand our common discernment. “

Catholics United’s blog, Our Daily Threadcarried a post by Daniel Byrne in which he challenged the USCCB’s characterization of the decisions as “tragic”:

“It further upsets me that you call these decisions “tragic.” What’s tragic is that 23% of children live in poverty. What’s tragic are the natural disasters occurring because of climate change. What’s tragic is that Guantanamo Bay is still open (thanks to Bishop Pates for hisstatement, by the way). Providing equal rights for same-sex spouses is not tragic.

“Let’s be clear, this is a civil rights issue. No longer will same-sex spouses be turned away from seeing their partner in a hospital. No longer will binational couples be separated because their marriage isn’t recognized in the US. No longer will another 1,100 rights be denied same-sex spouses.”

Jamie Manson, writing on HuffingtonPost.com, tells the story of a group of Catholic LGBT advocates from Dignity/New York, who helped bring the DOMA case to court by supporting the plaintiff, Edith Windsor:

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor

“As millions celebrate today the Supreme Court’s striking down of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many will be giving thanks to Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the case, and her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.

“What most people will not know, however, is the instrumental role that a few members of the New York City chapter of DignityUSA played in this historic moment.”

You can read the inspiring story here.  Or you can see a synopsis and link to an earlier version of this story from The National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Manson concludes her essay with some hopeful words, which reflect the mood of yesterday’s and today’s exuberance:

“To paraphrase Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted aphorism, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Catholics can change the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo and 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


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