Russian Olympics Is an Opportune Time for Catholic Human Rights Witness

September 3, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Excommunicated Priest Suing Diocese is Inspired by Pope Francis

August 21, 2013

Fr. Roberto Francisco Daniel, aka “Fr. Beto”

Excommunicated this spring for making public comments in support of LGBT people, Robert Francisco Daniel is turning to the Brazilian court system to seek justice from Catholic Church. Fr. Beto, as he is commonly known, is acting now partially due to Pope Francis’ positive remarks about LGBT people at the end of World Youth Day.

Fr. Beto was a popular priest and media personality before the Diocese of Bauru charged him with “heresy” and “schism” and forced him to leave the priesthood in April. Folha de S. Paulo reports on the recent legal developments, noting that the former priest has considered a civil lawsuit since his excommunication and believes the local hierarchy’s treatment of him was unjust.

The former priest also published a book, “Forbidden Truths,” since then. Iglesia Descalza carries a translation of Fr. Beto’s recent interview with BBC Mundo about everything that has happened since April. When asked why he is choosing legal action, Fr. Beto replied:

“The Bishop of Bauru gave me two alternatives — retract all materials published on the Internet and apologize, or canon law would be applied to me. In the face of this, I thought it was good to leave the priestly ministry and return at another period of time…

“But facing excommunication, I decided to get into the common justice system, not simply because I want to come back, but because no institution can do to a person what the local Church did to me. I was treated like an adolescent and expelled without the right to defend myself.

“The Church didn’t respect me as a human being, it didn’t respect the 14 years I’ve been in the priesthood, it didn’t respect my family.”

Yet, he also credits Pope Francis’ remark on gay priests as important in going ahead with the lawsuit. Fr. Beto calls the pope a “moderate progressive,” saying:

“[Francis is] trying to get back to a more open, reflective Church. When he says that if a Christian isn’t revolutionary, he’s not a Christian, that’s where he’s going. When he says that the pastor ['the shepherd'] should smell like the faithful ['the sheep'], he’s indicating that we priests have to live a simpler life along with the other faithful. He doesn’t have a vision of a hierarchical Church.

“And when he talked about gays, he ended on a high note. ‘If a gay person is seeking God, who am I to judge him?’ It means that what he cares about is the person’s character, not their sexual orientation.”

The acclaimed comment was the pope’s response to a journalist’s question about a ‘gay lobby’ in the Church, and Fr. Beto offers his own views on this perennial issue:

“The gay lobby exists, but it isn’t for the Church to accept homosexuals. It’s a power struggle and the gays within the Church are much more homophobic than the heterosexuals, incredible as it may seem. They’re more conservative; they’re struggling for power. A power that’s more focused on aesthetics, on positions.

“They’re mostly people who entered the priesthood fleeing their sexuality and they’ve ended up living out their sexuality in an almost schizophrenic way within the Church hierarchy.”

As for the root of Fr. Beto’s problems, namely his rejection of homosexuality or same-sex acts as sinful, the former priest contrasts his work as a theologian with Pope Francis’ public role:

“There’s a big difference between what [Pope Francis] says and what I’m trying to reflect about. Is saying to a gay person ‘we accept you but not your sexuality’ really loving one’s neighbor? It’s condemning a person to celibacy and instilling in them that their sexual desire is a sin, something they’ll have all their lives.

“Is this respecting human knowledge? That’s my question, which is neither a sin nor an attitude that merits excommunication…

“That two people of the same sex, who are intimate, are freely giving pleasure to one another and perhaps even expressing love…what about that would be a sin? A sin is a loveless act. And lovelessness isn’t present in a homosexual relationship.”

Finally, Fr. Beto is asked about his current relationship with the Catholic Church and offers words familiar to many who identify as Catholic, even as contemporary leaders and institutions might turn them away:

It’s ambivalent: I feel I’m Catholic, belonging to this Church. I didn’t choose to stop being a priest, so I continue to be a priest. But through the Diocese of Bauru, through the local Church, I’m excluded.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: August 19, 2013

August 19, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that may be of interest:

1) Using hyperbolic language, the Catholic bishops in England released a document responding to that nation’s passage of marriage equality earlier this year. The document reiterated common messages from the hierarchy, while adding new concepts about Catholics being alienated in their own country because of the new law. You can read more at The Catholic Register. Marriage equality in England has at least one columnist asking if the Catholic Church should remove itself from marriage altogether.

2) Responding to the firing of educator Carla Hale this spring for marrying her wife, one set of Catholic parents began wondering about a Catholic burial for their gay son. While several Catholic officials and funeral directors assured them the institution denies a Catholic burial in only the most extreme instances, these parents remain dissatisfied. Alternatively, one gay Catholic man told The Columbus Dispatch: ” ‘One place the Catholic Church is really, really, really nice about is death.’ “

3)In the African nation of Cameroon, more anti-gay prosecutions and the seeming assassination of prominent advocate Eric Lembembe caused LGBT rights organizations to demand better conditions from the civil and religious authorities in Cameroon who support homophobic language and acts. LGBT advocates said in a statement reported by France 24: ” ‘The religious authorities, the Cameroonian Roman Catholic Church in particular, take a position on homosexuality in order to incite violence,’ ” Cameroon, where about a quarter of the population are Catholic, is one of the worst nations for LGBT rights.

4) A Michigan high school student won a lawsuit in which he claimed his First Amendment rights were violated during a 2010 classroom interaction. The student claimed his Catholic faith did not allow him to accept LGBT people, and was then written up by his teacher for disruptive behavior. Some observers in Education Week believe this case could have broader implications in the tension over free speech in schools and anti-bullying policies that seek to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Predicament with Conservative Catholics

August 18, 2013

Pope Francis meeting with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Francis is merely five months into his papacy, but he already is reversing a three decades old paradigm in the Catholic Church of conservatives being courted and progressives being silenced. Traditionalist Catholics have responded several ways to Francis’ new style of leadership with potentially wide-ranging implications for both the church and LGBT equality.

David Gibson writes in the National Catholic Reporter about the divided opinions among conservatives in the Church, largely grouped in three camps. First, there are those who openly express their disapproval of Pope Francis, ranging from bloggers to archbishops:

“[Pope Francis has alienated] many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives…

“Indeed, he barely mentioned abortion directly or even gay rights until he was asked about gay priests during an impromptu press conference on the flight back from Brazil and, in a line heard round the world, he said, ‘Who am I to judge?’

“Catholics on ‘the right wing of the church,’ Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said on the eve of the Brazil trip, “have not been really happy about (Francis’) election.’ “

Others apologetically interpret Pope Francis to show how he is continuing the style and/or substance of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI:

“Not everyone on the right, however, is willing to concede that their influence may be on the wane or even that Francis is really any different than Benedict.

“Instead, many are advancing detailed arguments that they say show Francis doesn’t actually mean what the media and public think he means, adding that the pope’s honeymoon will get a cold shower when liberals see Francis is just as orthodox as his predecessors.”

A number of conservatives recognize change is occurring, but a change that is not necessarily destructive and might help shift a misguided emphasis on the papacy to a healthier ecclesiology.

Regardless of how conservative Catholics choose to interpret Pope Francis, how Pope Francis responds to them will be important for the Church’s future. Gibson cites Michael D’Antonio writing in Foreign Policy magazine in pointing out the pope’s challenge:

” ‘[Conservatives] have loyally supported the church with donations and activism and can be expected to oppose any change in direction of the sort Francis has signaled…

” ‘But this constituency cannot sustain the church in the long term…and the church now needs a figure able to bridge the gap between its rightward movement and the reality that Westerners are leaving the church in droves. That problem requires a wily pope with the skill and charisma to pull off the high-wire balancing act of unifying these two disparate impulses.’ “

Part of this tension is over issues of gender and sexual orientation. Those Westerners leaving Catholicism are often doing so due to harmful words of and actions by Catholic leaders against LGBT people, cheered on by a vocal anti-equality minority within the Church. Pope Francis seems to be taking a more pastoral and conversational tone around issues of sexuality and identity. This is an essential step to building up healthier Catholic communities, but one that will be controversial for conservatives complacent with the anti-gay rhetoric Francis’ two predecessors.

One first step in walking this line? Transforming how the People of God view bishops and their role in the Church. Check back tomorrow for commentary on just that — and if you’d like to receive daily posts from Bondings 2.0, you can subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Report Reveals Conservatives’ Misuse of Religious Liberty Claims

March 20, 2013

Dr. Jay Michaelson

A new report on religious liberty details the impact conservative Christians, especially Catholics, have had in opposing LGBT rights. A project of the Political Research Associates, the report , entitled Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, was authored by Dr. Jay Michaelson,who identifies Catholic far right organizations and the US bishops as primary players in suppressing LGBT equality.

Writing on The Daily Beast, Dr. Michaelson undercuts claims that expanding civil rights is a curtailment of religious liberty by exposing the true purpose of this conservative campaign:

“Today a far-right coalition of conservative Catholics and evangelicals perceive that they have lost the moral battle against LGBT equality, particularly same-sex marriage. And so…they are waging a multi-pronged battle against LGBT rights, not on substantive moral grounds but on the premise that equality for gays restricts the religious liberty of Christians to discriminate against them…

“And today religious-liberty activists claim that bullies are the real victims because they cannot ‘express their views about homosexuality.’ They claim that businesses who say ‘No Gays Allowed’ are being oppressed because they are forced to ‘facilitate’ gay marriages. And they claim that the real targets of discrimination are not gay people, who in 24 states can be fired from their jobs simply for being gay, but employers who can’t fire them…

“Religious liberty is being used to mask a conservative Christian agenda—the same agenda that’s been pushed for half a century now. Some on the far right may sincerely believe their liberties are being threatened, but they believed that about desegregation too. A belief does not make something so.”

Countering this religious liberty argument has been a challenge for progressives.  Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, examines this challenge in the foreword he wrote for Michaelson’s report.  DeBernardo also published an op-ed about the report on Alternet  which how progressives, especially Catholics, might respond to religious liberty arguments:

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

“The power of this [religious liberty] message comes not from the truth or validity of their [conservatives'] claim, of which there is very little to be found, but from the fact that this puts progressives into a quandary. Yet when leaders on the right make that claim, progressives often tread too delicately, for fear that they will be forced to choose between falsely competing values of liberty and equality…

“As a Catholic who works for LGBT equality, my own loyalties to faith and justice sometimes pull me in opposite directions when an argument for religious liberty is raised. As a practicing Catholic, I want to be sure that the government is not going to interfere with my church’s ability to govern itself. As an advocate for LGBT issues, I want to make sure that equality is served…

“One of the most important recommendations in this report is that a strong faith-based response to the religious liberty argument is needed. And long overdue…A faith-based response to religious liberty would help to unearth the hidden gems within faith traditions, which value conscience, equality, and justice.”

Moving forward politically, LGBT advocates can expect this religious liberty argument to remain active given previous successes nationwide. This report, which you can read here, provides one tool that progressive people of faith can employ in reorienting a distorted narrative.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Awesome Sights and Mighty Signs: A Reflection on the End of the World

November 27, 2012

Today marks the 366th day of the Bondings 2.0 blog, which means that tomorrow will be the blog’s first anniversary!  (2012 was a leap year, so there were 366 days in it.)

Anniversary times, beginnings and endings, are always good times to reflect and ponder.  The mood of this time of the liturgical year prods us to reflections about end times and new beginnings.  Last Sunday, we celebrated the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the liturgical year.  This week, the scripture readings for Mass are all about the end times.  Next Sunday we will begin Advent, a season of joyful expectation.

Today’s Gospel passage, Luke 21: 5-11, offers some items to ponder for those who work and wait for LGBT equality in church and society.   If you are involved in such work, you probably often feel like Jesus’ early followers who asked him when the end times were coming and what signs would precede it. Jesus answers them, rather cryptically:

” ‘See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
“I am he,” and ‘The time has come.”
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.’

“Then he said to them,
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.’ “

Though “end of the world” talk is often scary and doom-ridden, for Christians, we know that the end of the world will usher in God’s reign of justice, the thing for which we most long.  What I see as one message Jesus offers us in this passage is that we should not be upset by cataclysms and catastrophes that happen to us as we wait for this reign of justice to be realized.

Jesus notes that there will be things that terrify us, but that we must remember that these are not the end of the story.  While we may witness battles and earth-shaking events, we also need to wait to see “awesome sights and mighty signs.”

I’m no prophet, so I can’t interpret what those sights and signs will be.  Indeed, I believe they will be different for different people.  Anything that reminds us that the struggles we are involved in are not the end of the story is one of those signs.

Our job is to remain courageous (“do not be terrified”) and keep firm in our faith that God will bring about the reign of justice for which we long, and work, and pray.

Stay tuned for Advent, coming next Sunday, when we will enter a period that celebrates our waiting in joyful hope for the Redeemer to enter our world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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