QUOTE TO NOTE: On the Passing of Fred Phelps

March 23, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksFred Phelps, the founder of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, died this past week.   The National Catholic Reporter posted an article on Phelps’ history, which began in Topeka, Kansas, and then gained a national profile.

LGBT religious groups responded to his demise with compassion for the human sorrow that death brings and with calls to end the religiously-based anti-gay rhetoric that Phelps personified.  On the CNN Religion BlogJim Smith, DignityUSA‘s Associate Director, had this to say:

“There is a sadness as deep as the Grand Canyon over the harm that he has unleashed in our country, a sadness that can’t be quantified. But that still doesn’t mean I delight in his death. I’d delight in the end of the Westboro [Baptist Church] mission.”

To Smith’s sentiments, we say, “Amen!”

Fred Phelps

Taking a different perspective was a Kansas Catholic Church official,  who claimed that Phelps’ extremism harmed people who oppose marriage equality and other pro-LGBT issues. Jacksonville.com reported :

“Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said Phelps and his congregation still represent ‘an easy device’ for gay-marriage supporters to “short-circuit the conversation” on that and related issues in recent years.

” ‘People were justifiably, appropriately outraged by the things that they did,’ Schuttloffel said of Phelps and his church. ‘As soon as someone, then, is able to tar you as being related to them or thinking the same way as them, right away you’re starting behind the eight ball.’

So sad that Mr. Schuttloffel turned this occasion into a statement about marriage.  So sad that a Catholic official does not recognize the pain and harm that Phleps caused so many.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Employees Must Be Protected at Catholic Institutions

October 1, 2013
Jim Smith

Jim Smith

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 know the shameful trend of LGBT employees at Catholic schools and parishes being terminated for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and support for marriage equality.  Less known are the ways that Catholics are taking action against these discriminatory policies and other steps to make Catholic schools welcoming for LGBT people.  In today’s post, we have news of such actions from Minnesota, Washington State, and California.

Jim Smith, program manager of DignityUSA and a Minnesota resident, recently  authored an article on the trend in The Star Tribune. He begins the essay, written in the name of the Equally Blessed coalition:

“The list keeps getting longer.

“At an accelerating rate, Catholic schools and churches around the country are firing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees who have decided that they can no longer deny who they are and whom they love…

“At a time when even Pope Francis himself is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its ‘obsession’ with sexual issues, Catholic schools and parishes are intensifying the judgmental behavior that the pope urged Catholics to eschew in a recent interview with Jesuit publications.”

Equally Blessed LogoSmith references the dual departures at Totino-Grace High School of William Hudson and then Kristen Ostendorf in his home state as part of the ‘obsession.’ He then asks why the bishops and administrators so quickly terminate LGBT people if their aim is to defend teachings on marriage:

“Catholic parishes don’t fire heterosexual musicians who choose to get married at City Hall rather than in a Catholic Church. Catholic schools don’t check up on heterosexual teachers to determine whether they might have remarried without having their previous marriages annulled, or whether they are using artificial contraception. If the hierarchy were defending what it defines as Catholic principles, it would have to fire individuals in marriages that the church does not recognize as sacramental. But it does not.

“When gay, lesbian or transgender people attempt to live openly as the individuals that God created them to be, however, the hierarchy is suddenly zealous to defend its doctrine. This double standard is increasingly obvious both to lay Catholics…and the general public.”

While this hypocrisy is evident, there has been little recourse for terminated employees at religious institutions, although a recent ruling in favor of a transgender educator could be changing this reality. Regardless, Smith admits he cares less about the legality of discriminatory firings and more about Catholic teachings of dignity and equality, alongside the good that LGBT employees provide in the Church’s institutions.

Many who echo Smith’s beliefs are acting for change in Catholic institutions. Two examples come from the West Coast in September, and are only the latest in organizing efforts at schools and colleges nationwide to make campuses more LGBT-friendly.

In Seattle, Washington, LGBT and ally students in Catholic high schools are responding to hostile environments by requesting officially-recognized gay-straight alliances. Students have lobbied Archbishop Peter Sartain with a petition, letters, and calls to allow for the formation of these alliances, reports the Ballard News-Tribune.  The story quotes a lesbian student:

“ ‘It’s important to have that support and have that community of people you know you can always go to when you’re having a bad day,’ said Katie, a recent graduate of a high school where she helped found a GSA group. To avoid endangering the school’s accreditation, the Ballard News-Tribune is not naming the school.”

In Glendora, California, silent protesters tried to attend a school board meeting for St. Lucy’s Priory, a Catholic high school. The protesters were there to support fired gay educator of seventeen years Ken Bencomo, but were turned away and the school continues to deny Bencomo was fired for his sexual orientation. Their efforts gained 90,000-strong petition as well, as reported in the Glendora Patch

For full coverage of those employees fired from Catholic institutions, view Bondings 2.0‘s Labor Day post commemorating them.

–Bob Shine, 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


In Minnesota, Catholics on Both Sides of Marriage Debate Gear Up

June 23, 2012

Catholic involvement in the struggle for marriage equality in Minnesota received a lot of press this week.  That state is facing a November ballot initiative to amend their constitution to prevent lesbian and gay couples from marrying.

The St. Cloud Times reports:

“The Diocese of St. Cloud has donated $50,000 to a fund supporting passage of Minnesota’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“The donation is among Central Minnesota’s largest contributions to the costly battle over whether the state constitution will be amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Voters will decide in November whether to adopt that amendment. . . .

“According to campaign finance reports, the St. Cloud diocese’s donation was made this month to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund. The Marriage Defense Fund has given $750,000 to Minnesota for Marriage since the start of 2011.

“Catholic diocese in Crookston and Winona also gave to the Marriage Defense Fund this year, and diocese in the Twin Cities, New Ulm and Duluth gave in 2011.

“The Diocese of St. Cloud’s donation came from parishioners’ contributions to special collections taken at Masses throughout the diocese, according to Christine Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the diocese. Those funds are separate from the general collections at each Mass, Codden said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that Catholics who support and Catholics who oppose the amendment are working hard for their cause:

“Catholics — numbering around 1.1 million — make up the largest single religious denomination in Minnesota, and they are gearing up for November when voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

“The Catholic church in Minnesota has been one of the most, if not the most, active religious groups in support of the constitutional amendment, which is in line with Catholic church teaching about marriage.

“At the same time, notable opposition to the law has come from inside the church, from groups of priests opposed to the amendment and from Catholics who have joined organizations opposed to the proposed statute. . . .

“In Minnesota, the Catholic church’s campaign in favor of the amendment includes the formation of parish marriage committees to educate parishioners on marriage and the consequences of a change in definition, according to the website of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the church in the state. . . .

“However, as was the case in other states, some Catholics have been vocal about their disagreement with the church’s campaign. . . .

“Also, three retired Catholic priests wrote a letter in May to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper (although it was not published) and held a press conference May 17 in Minneapolis, expressing their opposition to the Catholic church’s campaigning on the issue. Minnesota Public Radio took up the story and posted the letter online along with the story.

“Although the priests said they agree with the church’s position on sacramental marriage, they opposed a state constitutional amendment that would deny rights and privileges to same-sex unions. Asserting that ‘there is not just one way for Catholics to vote in November,’ they ask the letter reader to consider voting against the amendment.

” ‘We feel that our church is stronger when both sides of an issue are part of the public dialogue,’ the letter stated.”

Jim Smith

CNN’s Belief Blog spoke with Catholics in Minnesota who are working to oppose the amendment, including Jim Smith of DignityUSA, and Michelle LaFrance, a parishioner:

“Jim Smith is a former Roman Catholic priest who left his post with the church 10 years ago. He’s an ex-priest for several reasons, he says, but one of his main concerns was the church’s stance against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

“But Smith remains a Catholic – though he says being a Catholic who actively campaigns for legalized same-sex marriages can be difficult these days.

” “I’d much rather this wasn’t happening,’ Smith says of the division that the issue has created among Minnesota  Catholics. ‘But it does provide some real opportunities because it challenges us to talk to each other, Catholics talking to other Catholics.  .  .  .’

“A group he helped form,  Catholics for Marriage Equality-Minnesota, aims ‘to encourage Catholics to consider the profound sacredness of same-gender relationships and to defeat this marriage amendment,’ Smith says.

“Vatican edicts against same-sex marriage often give Catholic same-sex marriage supporters the impression they’re in the minority.

“But a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests 59% of American Catholics support rights allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. One reason behind that statistic – says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones – is because U.S. Catholics “overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed.” A PRRI poll bears that out – with 69% of Catholics nationwide saying a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.

“In the Midwest alone, Catholics are evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage -– with 46% in favor, 47% against.

“Like Jim Smith, Michelle LaFrance is a Catholic who has also taken the bold step against the church in support of marriage equality.

” ‘I remember thinking “wow, maybe I shouldn’t [remain a Catholic],” ” LaFrance said. Ultimately they’ve remained with the Catholic faith, citing its many positive aspects including going to church. It’s an important weekly ritual for LaFrance, her husband and their three kids.

” ‘The Catholic Church, despite the media [attention] it typically gets, does a lot of great things, a lot of great social justice,’ LaFrance said. She noted the church ‘feeds the poor, houses the homeless, takes care of the abused.’ “

“The LaFrance family belongs to the Church of St. Margaret Mary in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley, a congregation which LaFrance describes as fairly progressive. She says the majority of her fellow parishioners agree with her stance on same-sex marriage.

“But when LaFrance hears the archdiocese telling people how they should think about it, she can’t help but sometimes feel like less of a Catholic.

“‘ I don’t think anybody – whatever their religious denomination – whole-heartedly follows every single rule down to the letter.’  . . .

“For ex-priest Jim Smith, grappling with the issue has been difficult – a personal struggle that extends to the heart of his faith.

“The inner conflict between what Smith believes is right and his love for the church has pushed him to consider leaving the Catholic religion altogether.

“In the end, Smith vows he will stay. ‘It’s in my bones.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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