Catholic Pastor Explains Why He Marched in Pride Parade

July 14, 2013

Last month,  we reported on Catholic faith communities marching in LGBT Pride marches in Portland, Oregon and the Baltimore-Washington, DC region.  We’ve recently learned of several more demonstrations of Catholic support of Pride events in three more U.S. events.

SEATTLE

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

Thanks to blogger Michael Bayly of The Wild Reedwe learned about a Seattle, Washington pastor who announced in his parish newsletter “Why Am I In the Parade?”   Father John D. Whitney, SJ, of St. Joseph’s parish, Seattle,  introduced the explanation of  his participation by referring to Acts 10: 28:

“You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean.”

This passage occurs in the story of St. Peter visiting the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  Fr. Whitney explicates the meaning:

“The head of the apostles is called to testify that God’s grace is greater than the members of the Church can hope or imagine, and that their understanding of the Church must continue to develop as the mystery of God’s redemptive love continues to be revealed in all of nature and in every culture. What surprises Peter, what will become a starting point for Paul, and what continues to challenge the Church even today is how vast the mercy of God is, a mercy that denies the notion that anything which is human can be profane; a mercy that encompasses every human heart, every aspect of human nature.”

Fr. Whitney reminded parishioners of the parish’s participation in last year’s Pride parade and what that meant to them:

“Last year, for the first time, members of the St. Joseph community marched in the Pride Parade to indicate our solidarity with and respect for our homosexual sisters and brothers. Like Peter entering the house of Cornelius, it was a moment that would be considered unlawful and scandalous to those who see members of this community as profane or unclean; yet, for me, and I believe for others who chose to be present in this march, it was a moment of grace, when we could witness the power of the Holy Spirit moving in this community, so often alienated from the Church of Christ.”

Fr. Whitney closes the essay with an eloquent expression of why he chose to march this year:

This year, I am going to the Pride Parade again, and I have supported St. Joseph’s presence in it, as well. I have done so not out of opposition to anyone; but, rather, in support of the sisters and brothers of our community who seek to live faithfully in the way that God has made them and the Spirit has called them. I am going to support the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the friends and companions of our gay and lesbian parishioners, who have pride in their daughters and sons and
who long to have them feel loved and welcomed at the  table of Christ and in the body of the Church. I am going to evangelize, to bear witness, by my presence and, if needed, by my words, that the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, is not a place of hatred and rejection; but a communion of loved sinners called in humility to grow and learn through the grace of the Holy Spirit. I am going to the parade because I want to enter the house of Cornelius, where I have already seen the signs of the Spirit;
because I want those in whose very nature is God’s blessing, to know that Christ longs for them with mercy and with love, asking them not to hide or reject their natural identity, but to see in that identity a way home to God.

Fr. Whitney was one of about a dozen Seattle Archdiocese parishes who last year chose not to collect signatures to put the state’s marriage equality law up for a referendum.

MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL

Catholics CELEBRATING Marriage Equality in the Twin Cities.

Catholics CELEBRATING Marriage Equality in the Twin Cities.

Also on The Wild Reed, Michael Bayly also wrote up an account of the Pride Festival in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, describing Catholic participation at the event.  Though last year Bayly organized “Catholics for Marriage Equality” in the state,  this year, the group edited its name to “Catholics Celebrating Marriage Equality,” reflecting that the state recently adopted a marriage law for gay and lesbian couples and the Supreme Court’s recent decisions.

Similarly, Dick Bernard, who blogs for the Twin Cities Daily Planetreflected on the role of Catholics in the state’s marriage equality debates.  He noted that on the day of the Pride Festival, his parish,  the Basilica of St. Paul, prayed  “for respect for all people [including their] sexuality.”

NEW YORK CITY

Nicholas and David march in NYC Pride parade.

Nicholas and David march in NYC Pride parade.

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will be familiar with the case of Nicholas Coppola, the New York parish volunteer dismissed from his ministries because he married his partner, David.

The couple marched this year in New York City’s Pride Parade and their photo was featured on The Huffington Post.   The article accompanying their photo is entitled “10 Signs Displayed in the 2013 NYC Pride March That You Should Read and Remember.”  Number five on that list is “Married Gay Catholics USA.”  Noting the strong support for marriage equality among Catholic lay people, author Murray Lipp remarks:

“It is important for gay Catholics to speak openly about their marriages and for straight Catholics who support equality to continue to speak up both within and outside of the church.”

All three examples–Seattle, the Twin Cities, New York–show the power and importance of witnessing for Catholic support of LGBT equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Marriage Debate Brings Out Deep Faith and Thought in Catholics

October 17, 2012

An amazing by-product of the marriage equality movement across the country has been the wealth of Catholics willing to speak publicly about how their faith empowers them to speak out for equal marriage standards for lesbian and gay couples.  Both ordinary people in the pew and church and political leaders have come forward to speak about the issue from the depths of their Catholic belief.

The National Catholic Reporter has recently profiled two such Catholics in Washington State. The marriage equality debate can seem harsh at times, and some times it seems like it brings out the worst in people.  In reading the stories of these two people, I think it is evident that God has found it possible to use this situation to bring out deep faith and integral spirituality in people.

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

The first article features Fr. John Whitney, SJ, pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in Seattle, who recently sent a bulk email to his parishioners, asking them to ponder carefully a recent statement from Archbishop Peter Sartain asking them to vote against marriage equality:

“Whitney asked parishioners to review the narrative dispassionately and ask themselves ‘if this referendum refers to the same object as does the Church’s understanding — that is, is the civil marriage to which the referendum is addressed, the same as the sacramental marriage described by the column?’ “

In his email, Whitney reminded parishioners that Catholics are

” ‘morally obliged to form our consciences well, through study and through practice’ and that ‘a person acts morally only when following his or her conscience, despite the sometimes opposite calls of public pressure, self-interest, fashion or authority.’” ‘That being said,’ he continued, ‘it may appear from the outside that Catholics are governed more by authority than by conscience. … The role of authority in Catholic conscience formation is, indeed, complex; but, authority never supplants conscience.’

“The ‘call of conscience’ is ‘the Catholic categorical imperative,’ Whitney wrote.”

Whitney cautions that his stance should not be seen as an opposition to the archbishop, but about ways of understanding the church:

“I very much do not want to make this about a clash of the archbishop and me. To me, this is not about persons but about visions of the Church. I truly believe that the movement of the Holy Spirit among the People of God can only work if people receive the tools to responsibly decide issues of public policy and personal morality.”

Senator Ed Murray

State Senator Ed Murray of Seattle, Washington, was the focus of the second article which focuses on this gay, Catholic legislator’s faith experiences.  His early formation came from his mother’s faith:

“Murray’s resilient faith and his willingness to speak out on complex issues can be traced to his mother’s love of dialogue, especially when related to Blessed Pope John XXIII (whom she adored), and her affinity for Catholic writers such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. At church and at school, Murray’s childhood was also infused with Catholic teachings focused on ministry to the poor. Beloved nuns and priests, representative of ‘a larger family in the best sense of that word,’ offered support and care, encouraging Murray and his six siblings ‘to grow in our prayer lives and our commitment to other people,’ he said.”

Murray’s adult spirituality has been nourished by a relationship with a Trappist monastery in nearby Oregon:

“There, Murray explored the contemplative and mystical traditions of prayer, structured his days according to the horarium, and read of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi, as well as Buddhist writers. He learned to listen in a new way, from within. ‘Through silence, solitude, prayer and meditation, you learn things about yourself — not always easy things about yourself — that help you become a more authentic person,’ Murray said.”

His mystical side is rooted in very earthly practicalities:

“Murray said three aspects of his faith keep him rooted: fellow Catholics who ‘continue to affirm me as a human being and continue to affirm my 21-year relationship with my partner, Michael’; the belief that followers of Christ are called to live with,

and love all people, regardless of other factors; and the fact that his prayer life and spirituality continue to be fed and challenged. Murray acknowledged, ‘My faith has helped me see people who strongly disagree with me as important and wonderful people, even when I can’t stand them and they can’t stand me.’ ”

Both the article about Whitney and the article about Murray are worth reading in their entirety by clicking the links above.  They are rich in insight, spirituality, and wisdom.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

National Catholic Reporter:  Same-sex marriage put to voters in Washington


Washington State Catholic Pastors’ Refusal Continues to Inspire

August 27, 2012

While we were in Washington State last week doing educational programs on Catholic support for marriage equality in anticipation of that state’s referendum on the issue in November,  Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and I met with several pastors and parish leaders who earlier this year had refused the local archbishop’s request to use their parishes to collect signatures for petitions  to put the new marriage law to a ballot test.

Our discussion was lively and encouraging.  For one thing, we learned that there were many more parishes that had refused to collect signatures than had made the news accounts back in April.  We knew about a handful, but it turns out there were probably close to twenty that abstained from the collection.  In fact in one deanery (a geographic division) of the diocese, the pastors of all twelve parishes had met and agreed corporately not to allow signature collection.

The pastors we met  said they mostly had two reasons for their refusal:  1) they believed that collecting signatures would cause great divisions in the parishes; 2) many of the parishes have an explicit welcome to LGBT parishioners and their families, and they felt that collecting signatures would be a sign of inhospitality.

Response from parishioners has been universally positive about the decision not to support the signature campaign.  A number of the priests said that the announcements of the decision received standing ovations from their congregations.  The few parishioners who disagreed expressed their thoughts quietly and respectfully, and the priests felt that the decision helped to open up avenues of dialogue.

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

During our discussion, we learned about one pastor, in particular, who has been very public and vocal about not supporting measures to defeat marriage equality.  Fr. John Whitney, SJ, of St. Joseph Parish, Seattle, has added a section to the parish’s website about the upcoming referendum.  In that section, he includes a letter describing his decision as well as his perspective on Referendum 74.    He begins:

“Many of you may have read in the media that St. Joseph, among other parishes, has decided not to allow the gathering of signatures for Referendum 74, which aims at repealing the marriage equality bill passed by the State of Washington. This referendum is supported by the Archdiocese of Seattle, who has asked the Knights of Columbus to collect signatures at various parishes. Although many of you have offered support for the decision not to allow signature gathering here, I believe all of you deserve an explanation of the reasoning behind the decision.

“The primary reason for not allowing this petition is the nature of the worshipping assembly. Women and men of all opinions, orientations, backgrounds, and motivations are welcomed at this altar, and are encouraged to pray for wisdom and unity, even as we all work to create social policies that respect our faith and support each other. The Church should not be a place of coercion, but of discernment, as each member of the Church (as well as each citizen), decides whether a proposal such as Referendum 74 makes us more or less like the Kingdom described by Jesus. To have petitioners at the doors seems to me inappropriately coercive and contrary to the mission of the Church, especially in the Sunday assembly.”

Fr. Whitney goes on to describe why he feels the church is not the place to debate the referendum:

“Further, the nature of the piece of legislation makes it inappropriate to be brought into the context of our worship, I believe, since Referendum 74—like the marriage equality act it seeks to overturn—concerns civil marriage, not the covenant of Catholic marriage, which is a matter of faith and exists in the Church through the ministry of every couple. Although the Archbishop has the right and responsibility to speak and educate the community about legislation, I believe that this level of involvement around the issue of civil marriage is ill-considered, and risks placing the Church on the side of injustice and the denial of civil rights. Thus, I cannot in conscience allow such signature gathering at St. Joseph. I am not telling others how to vote, but I think that a Catholic, in good conscience, can oppose this referendum and should not be pressured to support it in the context of Sunday mass.”

In addition to his statement on the parish website, the pastor also posted Archbishop Peter Sartain’s letter requesting signatures,  and an FAQ sheet from the  Washington State Catholic Conference on why Catholics should oppose marriage equality.  Fr. Whitney explained his approach:

“Finally, I want to be clear that the Archbishop empowered pastors to make the decision about whether or not to allow signature gathering, and that we are not acting in opposition to his leadership. I am committed to offering his words directly to this community, when that is requested, and to encourage all members of the community to read them respectfully and thoughtfully, as part of the formation of conscience for any Catholic. In those rare situations where I may disagree with the Archbishop’s conclusions, I do not intend to use the pulpit or bulletin to debate, since that is not the place. As I have said, I think such debates belong outside the Church.”

He closes with a hope and prayer for unity among Catholics, even those divided by the marriage equality issue:

“It is of primary importance in all this, however, that we know we can be one community, united in heart and mind, only if we believe that every person is loved by God and valued in his or her humanity. We must listen to one another with respect—to the reality of our experiences and the grace of our call, in Christ. Hearing and loving each other is the root to true discernment, for it is in this communion that the Spirit is present and the Church—the true Church, for whom Christ was crucified and to whom he gave his body and blood—made flesh.

“May we hear God in our midst and always live to do God’s will in our world.”

On the website, Fr. Whitney provided a link for people to easily respond to him and/or to the archbishop.

We need more pastors like Father Whitney who speak forthrightly and who encourage respectful dialogue among their parishioners and between parishioners and their pastoral leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Seattle Parishes Refuse to Cooperate in Anti-Marriage Equality Petition Drive

April 15, 2012

Washington State's Governor Christine Gregoire, a Catholic, signs marriage equality into law in February 2012.

A small but significant movement is happening in the Archdiocese of Seattle.   Archbishop Peter Sartrain has asked parishes there to collect signatures on a petition to call a referendum to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law.   So far, three parishes, including the archdiocesan cathedral, have publicly refused to circulate the petition.

According to a news article in The Seattle Times:

“The majority of parishes in Western Washington are expected to make the petitions available — some as soon as this Sunday, following Mass, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“But pastors of at least three prominent Catholic churches in Seattle — St. Mary’s Church, St. Joseph Parish and St. James Cathedral — have notified members that the petitions will not be made available there.”

Very Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, said in a statement posted on the parish’s website that collecting signatures would be “divisive” in the parish, and he appreciated that the archbishop left the decision to do so up to the discretion of  pastors.  Ryan described his decision in a news article which appeared in The National Catholic Reporter:

“I decided to take a preemptive strike by sending out my email (April 11) thinking that many of my parishioners would either boycott Mass this coming Sunday or that they would arrive in a white heat. The tone of my email was low-key and anything but inflammatory. I have received 115 responses to it — when none were required or even expected! — and fully 110 of them have been strongly supportive of my decision. And I mean strongly supportive!”

According to a Reuters news story,

“Using similar language, the pastoral life coordinator at St. Mary’s Church, Tricia Wittmann-Todd, said collecting signatures would be ‘hurtful and divisive’ to her parish.

” ‘I am particularly concerned about our youth who may be questioning their own sexual identity and need our support at this time in their lives,’ she said in a statement.”

Danny Westneat, a columnist in The Seattle Times, cites an even stronger comment from a third pastor:

“At St. Joseph’s in Seattle, the Rev. John Whitney, S.J., said that he couldn’t in good conscience allow signature gathering. In a bit of a broadside in this Sunday’s church bulletin, he writes that Catholic leadership seems deaf to the spirit of its own people, who, he implies, could teach the bishops a thing or two about acceptance of gays and lesbians.

” ‘The leadership of the church sometimes confronts the world as an enemy of the Spirit,’ he wrote. ‘The church needs greater humility and openness.’ “

Westneat also quotes the woman whose opposition to the petition drive got this movement started:

“Barbara Guzzo is the parishioner at St. Mary’s who got this little rebellion going by speaking out against the archbishop’s campaign. She said she’s often asked how she hangs in there with a church that seems afflicted with an ” ‘institutional deafness’ (as Whitney dubbed it in his Sunday bulletin).

” ‘My answer is: because it’s a human institution,’ Guzzo said. ‘I mean it took the Catholic Church 400 years to acknowledge we were wrong on Galileo! But eventually we did do it. We did say, “Oops, we were wrong.”

“She’s not saying that’s coming again anytime soon. But this is how the change often starts. From the inside out.”

While many Catholic dioceses have taken strong measures to opposed marriage equality in legislatures and referendums, none had yet taken the bold step of collecting signatures at parishes to get the question put on the ballot.  The decision to do so remains highly controversial among Catholics in Seattle.  According to the Times news report:

“Calls to the archdiocese have been running about even between those opposed to the archbishop’s stance on the issue and those who favor it, archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said.”

Additionally, the same report provides background on the question of diocesan involvement in marriage questions. Links to Bondings 2.0 blog posts about the following actions can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted text:

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for gays within the Catholic Church, called Sartain’s position ‘a very aggressive step — and in the wrong direction.’

“In other states, ‘there appears to be a trend of the church supporting civil unions or domestic partnerships, arrangements short of full marriage,’ he said.

“For example, he noted, the Archbishop of Westminster in England in December came out in support of civil unions. And in New Hampshire this year, the Catholic Church endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples as a compromise to a full repeal of that state’s same-sex marriage law, which has been in place since 2009.

“In 2009, the Diocese in Portland, Maine, opposed marriage equality on a referendum, but did not make petitions available in its parishes.

“Same-sex marriage supporters in Maine are trying again this year to legalize gay marriage, and last month church leaders in that state announced they would not actively campaign against the measure, but would instead educate its members on the issues.

” ‘Education is the proper role for the church; collecting signatures is not education,’ DeBernardo said.

“In Maine, he said, some parishes have reported a loss in membership as a result of the church’s position in 2009.

” ‘That’s important for Archbishop Sartain and others to consider,’ DeBernardo said. ‘This could have a devastating effect, regardless of the outcome.’ “

Letters to the editor ofThe Seattle Times express outrage at Archbishop Sartrain’s petition drive.  Joe Martin writes:

“As a practicing Catholic, married and a proud father of two sons, I was horrified to learn that Archbishop J. Peter Sartain has plans to implement what amounts to a church-sponsored gay-bashing campaign.

“Whatever Sartain and Catholic officialdom thinks of gay people, the proposed inauguration of a petition drive to actively promote the rescinding of the gay-marriage act is a most misguided and contemptuous maneuver on the part of the institutional church in this region.”

Larry Clement writes:

“I have felt St. James Cathedral (and other churches, synagogues and mosques) to be a sanctuary, not only for me, but for others as well. A sanctuary where I could be in the presence of God for a while, away from the troubles outside, including all the dirt, accusations and innuendoes of politics. I also believe that the church must be separated from politics.

“If our archbishop is now allowing signatures to be gathered in or around the church and the services therein, for or against any political matter, my sanctuary is gone. It does not matter to me if the cause is gay marriage or discrimination of any kind, it does not belong in the church. I am saddened, and I am experiencing a great loss. I don’t want to go back.”

Ann Horwitt writes:

“The archdiocese has every right to engage in a political fight against gay marriage but it does so at some peril.

“Churches currently hold tax-exempt status as religious institutions. If the archdiocese of Seattle and other religious groups sponsor political actions such as petition drives against certain laws then perhaps it is time to revisit the privilege of tax exemption.”

Let’s pray that other Catholic parishes in Seattle and around the country will follow the example of these courageous communities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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