World Youth Day Pilgrims Kick Off “Queer Catholic Faith” Season

October 9, 2013

DignityUSA, a national organization for LGBT Catholics and supporters, is hosting their third season of Queer Catholic Faith, a webinar series featuring distinguished and interesting speakers on LGBT Catholic topics.

The webinars are live one-hour web-interviews with featured guests and real-time questions and conversation from participants who connect through their computers.

World Youth Day pilgrims on Copacabana beach.

World Youth Day pilgrims on Copacabana beach.

The first installment, on Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m., Eastern time, will feature three of the six young Equally Blessed pilgrims who promoted LGBT equality and justice at World Youth Day in Brazil this past summer.   The promotional material describes these young people’s experiences which they will share during the webinar:

“Wearing your rainbow colors, your smile and carrying your banner that reads “Faithful Catholics committed to full equality of LGBT persons”, you walk into a crowd of Catholics you presume to be generally unsupportive of LGBT rights and dignity. What happens next? Six young adults did just that for an entire week during World Youth Day celebrations. What they encountered may greatly surprise you. DignityUSA is
thrilled to host three of these pilgrims on it’s premier webshow of the third season of Queer Catholic Faith. Join us for a taste of Catholicism among young people empowered with compassion and justice.”

Participation is free.  You can register for the October 22nd webinar by clicking here.

The monthly series is scheduled for Tuesday evenings at 9:00 p.m., Eastern time.  The remaining episodes feature the following people and topics:

Richard Galliardetz

Richard Galliardetz

November 26, 2013: Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, President of the Catholic Theological Society
of America, Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College and father of a
gay son. Register here.

December 17, 2013: Dignity Alive! A look at a thriving Dignity chapter community in San Diego, CA. with three SD guests: Brian, Roxanne and Al.  Register here.

January 21, 2014: Joe Gentilini, Dignity/Columbus member and author of the new memoir, Hounded By God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship.  Register here.

Thelathia 'Nikki' Young

Thelathia ‘Nikki’ Young

February 18, 2014: Thelathia ‘Nikki’ Young,  a star attraction at Dignity’s 2013 Convention. Nikki will show how our own stories can bring others to deeper understanding and acceptance. Register here.

March 18, 2014: Mateo Williamson, a young trans man from Arizona who will engage you with his curious mind and joyful Catholic faith.  Register here.

April 22, 2014: Dignity Prays! Discover the diversity and richness of Dignity worship in this interview with three persons from Dignity communities across the nation. Register here.

Webinars for May and June have yet to be announced.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


London’s Archbishop Welcomes LGBT Community to a New Pastoral Home

March 7, 2013

soho MassesAt the beginning of January, Bondings 2.0 reported on London’s Soho Masses for the LGBT community being transferred to a new location and operated under a different model of pastoral ministry.  That story made headlines because the Soho Masses were a pastoral accommodation made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, but had also been the subject of some criticism by conservative Catholics, reaching to the Vatican.

This past Sunday, the Soho Masses community moved to their new location at the Jesuit-run Immaculate Conception parish, Farm Street, in the Mayfair section of London.  In the new model of ministry, the LGBT community will not have a separate Mass, but will attend the Sunday evening Mass of the parish with the rest of the worshiping community.  Additionally, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council will work with the parish to expand outreach and ministerial programs to the LGBT community of London.

The new model of ministry got off to a good start, with a noteworthy visit from Archbishop Nichols himself to welcome the community. The Independent newspaper reports:

“In a remarkable gesture of goodwill, the Archbishop of Westminster made a private address to the united congregation after yesterday’s service – the first time a senior figure in the Roman Catholic church has formally engaged with the LGBT community.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

When the change had been announced, there had been some suggestion that Archbishop Nichols was forced by the Vatican to try to close down the pastoral outreach.  His presence at the first Mass to welcome the community shows that he is firmly committed to making the church a welcoming place for LGBT people.  His gesture shows how pastoral leaders can help to ease any discomfort that a change may entail, and it also stands as an example to the rest of the faith community about the importance of welcoming LGBT people.

The leadership of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council are excited about the new opportunity for community and ministry, while realizing that the transition may be difficult for some.  The Independent carried the comments of one leader:

“Despite a sense of betrayal in the LGBT Catholic community, some churchgoers, including Soho Masses Pastoral Council member Mark Dowd, were hopeful about what an integrated service would mean:

” ‘I’m excited because a lot of Catholics still don’t know any gay men or lesbians… This is a chance to make our face known and become formally part of the community,’ he said yesterday. ‘In a perfect world none of us would describe or define ourselves by our sexual orientation… there wouldn’t be a need for a special designated space. But it’s not a perfect world.’ “

Dowd also commented on the significance of Nichols’ pastoral visit to the first Mass:

“There are those critics of Vincent Nichols who would say that he is not on the progressive side of the argument, but to sit down and actually acknowledge the existence of our community has to be something.”

Here in the U.S., LGBT Catholics have sought such opportunities for many years, with few opportunities to dialogue with a bishop.

Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.com, attended the first Mass and described the positive atmosphere of the event, as well as his hopes for the future:

“Tonight (Sunday 3rd March) I went up to London for the first Mass of the integration of the Soho Masses Community into the Farm Street parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception – and came home more confident than ever that this transition will work out to our advantage. There will be short-term disappointments and teething problems, but these will be dealt with in time. In the longer run, we will benefit from the improved physical space, the greater resources of the Parish and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre for growth in faith and spirituality, and for opportunities to grow as part of a wider community – simultaneously influencing and learning from them.”

Weldon’s post describes the event in full, and he also corrects some of the inaccuracies of a press report of the event.  You can read his entire comments here and here.  If you want more information on this topic, they are an excellent resource.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

One final note about the new parish location.  This is the same parish which rejected Oscar Wilde as a parishioner back in the 1890s after he completed his prison sentence on “gross indecency” and sodomy charges.   Reconciliation can happen on all levels, even the historical one.   In an International Businss Times  article, Dowd commented on the historical significance of the parish:

“Oscar Wilde was turned away; they didn’t want to be associated with him. Now the Jesuits are saying: ‘It’s OK, it’s fine.’ “

We pray the Soho Masses community receive every blessing as they settle into their new pastoral home.  We pray, too, that similar models of ministry here in the U.S. be accorded the pastoral support that Archbishop Nichols has demonstrated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


How Do You Reconcile Being LGBT and Catholic?

February 4, 2013

gay and CatholicIn my over 20 years of working in LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church, by far the most frequent question that I have been asked is “How can someone by LGBT and Catholic at the same time?”  It’s a puzzling question to those who don’t share in one or both of those identities.   I’m always tempted to answer that question with the lines that appear at the beginning of the classic film, “Song of Bernadette,” about the saint’s visions at Lourdes:  “For those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.  For those who do believe, no explanation is necessary.”

An alternative answer, however, comes in the form of an essay from the UK, which appeared on the news blog, Sosogay.co.uk Author Brian Kelly, who writes from a Northern Irish perspective, acknowledges that although being gay and Catholic is a puzzle to some, it is not so to him:

“In reality, I feel comfortable as a gay Catholic, because I don’t particularly see the need for them to fit one another perfectly in order for both to be relevant to my life but I know that technically they do conflict. . . “

For Kelly, and for many LGBT Catholics that I have met, Catholic identity does not necessarily mean Catholic conformity:

“. . . [B]eing a Catholic is more than just attending a weekly gathering, and faith in God is more than just what you’re told by the clergy. It’s a way of life, and particularly in devout countries like mine, it’s something which binds the community together in schools, neighborhoods and organizations. Northern Ireland in particular is still a polarised state, with two sides divided on ethno-political grounds, where your religion is your label. Of course this has softened in recent years, but the roots run deep enough so that people still feel much more bound by their religion – whether they like it or not – than they might in a multi-ethnic country. Feelings of obligation to the Pope might be waning, but feelings of belonging among fellow Catholics are not.

Like it the U.S., and many other nations, Catholics in Northern Ireland are also supportive of LGBT issues, despite their hierarchy’s opposition to them.  Catholic lay people have made up their own minds on these matters:

“It’s worth noting that of the two largest political parties in Northern Ireland – the DUP (largely Unionist, Protestant voters) and Sinn Fein (largely Republican, Catholic voters), it is Sinn Fein which supports marriage equality. The DUP are rejecting it, and indeed tried to prevent the decriminalization of homosexuality in Northern Ireland as recently as 1982. This democratic politics speaks louder for the views of the people on the ground than the voice of an unelected man in Rome.”

Kelly paints a picture of the contemporary Catholic Church in Northern Ireland that remains spiritually and socially strong, while the laity grow more distant from the hiearchy:

“I now see a new generation of young people who still identify as Catholic, but reject some of the teachings of the Church. I know people who still pray and have spirituality, but don’t necessarily take it to the door of a chapel. I see communities who act out the positive, generous and loving elements of Catholic teachings, but have dropped the divisive and damning beliefs that have kept their country in fear, guilt, and even poverty, for the centuries in which the Church monopolized Ireland’s institutions. Many might say this sounds like picking and choosing – indeed it is a style of reform – but if it’s reform for the better welfare and happiness of people, why shouldn’t it be so? After all, faith is about being happy – religion became too much about control.”

Every LGBT Catholic that I know makes peace with the church in their own individual way, though there are some similarities across the stories.  How do you reconcile your Catholicism with your LGBT or LGBT-ally identity ?  Please share you ideas and experiences in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


“Choosing My Religion” Segment Features New Ways Ministry

October 26, 2012

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, participated in a conversation titled “Choosing My Religion”on HuffPost Live last night. Commentators discussed their experiences as members of faith traditions that held beliefs they personally disagreed with and their choice to remain a practicing adherent seeking reform rather than leaving.

The topic arose after Michelangelo Signorile wrote in Huffington Post about the phenomenon of religious ‘Nones,’ a segment of predominantly young adults who leave religious communities and remain spiritual, and the declining numbers in faith communities. (‘Nones’ refers to the fact that when asked in a survey what their religion is, these people check the option ‘None.’) Other participants included Mansoor Salam, author of Ten Years Older, Rabbi Levi Brackman, a Judaic scholar, and Tresa Edmunds, a feminist Mormon blogger.

Host Janet Varney asked DeBernardo about the state of Catholicism and those being driven from the Church, potentially due to LGBT issues, to which he responded:

“Here at New Ways Ministry our goals is to try to help build bridges between people who might be alienated from Church because of LGBT issues and the institutional structures.

“But, yes, it is a big problem. We are seeing a great exodus of people from Catholicism and it’s a terrible shame. In Maine, since 2009, there’s a figure that 50,000 Catholics have left the institutional church since that time. It’s a big problem.

“As the marriage equality debate and other debates get stronger, I think we’re going to see more people leaving organized religion.”

Other commentators spoke of their respective tradition’s challenges in contemporary society by the ‘Nones’ and by changing cultural trends that affect religion. Amid this conversation, DeBernardowas asked about the Catholic Church’s response to New Ways Ministry’s work. He responded by noting a vital difference in Catholic theology:

“Most people, when they say ‘the Catholic Church’, they think ‘hierarchy,’ but the Catholic definition of the ‘Church’ is ‘all of the People of God’. That’s the official definition…we get great support from grassroots Catholics and from people we call ‘middle managers’ – pastors, heads of Catholic colleges and universities, the women religious – they have been very supportive of our work for the past 35 years.”

Later in the conversation, DeBernardo referenced Vatican II’s call to read the signs of the times and linked it to one reason why people unable to stay in institutional church leave, namely they are impatient that the Church is not reading the signs of the times and responding quickly enough. However, he noted a trend among young adults who are responding to Vatican II’s call:

“It’s disappointing to see so many Catholics leaving…what I’m finding among young Catholics who are staying is that they’re making their own peace with the Church and finding their way within the Catholic Church.

“They’re not casual about justice issues and they are taking reading the signs of the times more seriously. I think it’s a good growing experience in the Church.”

If you would like to view the conversation in its entirety, click  here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students and Faculty at University of Notre Dame Push for Inclusion

October 16, 2012

Members of the University of Notre Dame’s academic community continue to seek greater recognition of and protection for LGBT students on campus in the new academic year. In recent weeks, 391 faculty released an open letter in campus newspaper, The Observer, and students in the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ keep the issue alive with several public initiatives.

Under the leadership of sociology professor Richard Williams, the faculty letter affirms the value of LGBTQ persons at Notre Dame and notes the faculty’s commitment to providing safe spaces in offices and classrooms, as they simultaneously work for a more inclusive environment campus-wide. It implicitly endorses the pending application for AllianceND’s recognition as a campus GSA as well.

Professor Williams spoke to The Observer about the aims for releasing this letter, which sought institutional change and personal commitment:

“‘We aren’t just trying to influence the University. … We can’t control what other people do, but we can control what we do ourselves,’ he said. ‘We wanted to show the members of the LGBTQ community that we support them, that we will not discriminate against them.’”

As reported in The Observer, the letter follows up on a statement from faculty released last May in response to the University administration’s public refusal to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause. Since then, the number of faculty signers tripled and continues to expand after this most recent publication.

Faculty support bolsters the student activism present this fall due to optimism that the proposed GSA, AllianceND, will be approved by the administration soon.

Alex Coccia

Bondings 2.0 spoke with Alex Coccia, a junior leading the ‘4 to 5 Movment,’ about the faculty letter and coinciding student efforts this semester. Regarding the faculty’s efforts, Coccia said:

“We’ve really been keeping in touch with faculty and getting faculty involved. Faculty are in an extremely unique position. They’re not just professors, they act as mentors outside the classroom and this recent letter in particular is extremely good because they make the commitment that their classrooms are safe spaces and they will not discriminate based on sexual orientation.”

Coccia said the student aspect of the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ was in limbo as the academic year commenced because the Student Affairs Office (SAO) postponed its decision on AllianceND until this fall when a broad review of LGBTQ resources at Notre Dame concluded. Amidst that climate, student leadership is hopeful and Coccia told Bondings 2.0:

“At Notre Dame, there’s a sense that it is time…there’s no legitimate reason to reject the GSA, especially this application.  We simply need to stress to the Student Affairs officers how important the GSA decision itself is.”

However hopeful they are, students continue to organize and publicize the issue with vigor. Over summer break, they collected 192 testimonies from the Notre Dame community, including alumni and family members, to help those in SAO understand why a gay-straight alliance is necessary for Notre Dame. An “I’m an Athlete, I’m an Ally” photo campaign will include photos from all varsity teams expressing their support and the addition of a high school mentoring program for youth who may be questioning as a service component.

These sentiments reflect wider student opinions, evident in the campus newspaper, including a Letter to the Editor from senior Julia Kohne:

“Last May, you stated that a decision about AllianceND’s application for official club status would be decided at the beginning of this academic year…It is now October…Please know that we have not forgotten AllianceND’s still-pending application for official club status.”

According to Alex Coccia, the Catholic faith is extremely important for many supporters and was clear in the 192 testimonials collected from Notre Dame community members, where about half claimed that their Catholicism causes them to write for justice. Coccia also added that the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ posits itself as enhancing the University’s Catholic identity:

“…because students deserve a place where it is open and very welcoming and people who do struggle to find a relationship between faith and sexuality can have peer-to-peer support…The peer-to-peer support is much more effective than the structures on campus now.”

Just last week, a dozen Notre Dame students opined in The Observer on National Coming Out Day again restating their mission and seeking even greater support:

“Today is National Coming Out Day…The Notre Dame LGBT community certainly remains in this struggle. Current structures and the general campus climate both continue to discourage students from coming out.

“AllianceND itself has come out time and time again over the past two decades, fighting for the right to exist. Today, we write to you all encouraging you to come out in support of our struggle to improve campus climate, and ask administrators of this campus to come out with substantial plans for doing so.”

As the struggle for recognition, protection, and equality at the University of Notre Dame continues through the devoted efforts of students and faculty, New Ways Ministry commends the progress already made by these visionary young adults and their older mentors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Bondings 2.0 Post:

September 1, 2o12:   Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus


LGBT Injustices Central at Loretto Community 200th Jubilee Celebration in DC

September 19, 2012

Loretto Sisters, Co-members and Friends at the USCCB

LGBT issues were front and center when 40 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th Jubilee.

Planned on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the DC gathering included visits to seven sights of injustice where the group prayed and sang a litany of saints and heroes. Sites visited were the US Supreme Court, the US Capitol, the DC Jail, the Vietnam War Memorial, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the Vatican Embassy, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Matthew Myers, a co-member of Loretto who currently chairs New Ways Ministry’s Board of Directors, joined Sr. Maureen Fiedler of the Sisters of Loretto and Eileen Harrington, a co-member, in leading the afternoon’s celebrations.

Amongst the injustices called to mind were those committed against the LGBT community. These included the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons from equal protections under the law at the Supreme Court and the campaign against marriage equality launched by Catholic bishops that makes LGBT persons objects of discrimination.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Sr. Maureen Fiedler

In the Loretto tradition of  ‘working for justice and acting for peace,’ the saints and heroes who struggle for equality and conscience were called to mind as well.

In the political and legal realm, those gathered sang the names of John Lawrence, plaintiff in the case that decriminalized same-gender consensual sex, as well as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the ecclesiastical realm, theologians Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Margaret Farley were sung at the Vatican Embassy for their progressive views on human sexuality and the Vatican censures that followed. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was intoned at the USCCB for his outspoken voice for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly, Sr. Jeannine was included in the litany, along with several other women religious. The program described Sr. Jeannine in the following way:

“Loretto Sister who advocates for LGBT persons in the face of continual Vatican opposition.”

In 1992, after the Vatican had directed U.S. bishops to pull back from their support of civil rights’ legislation for lesbian and gay people, the Loretto General Assembly issued a statement in support of lesbian and gay civil rights which included the following:

“. . . as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition–properly understood and interpreted–ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.
“Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry applauds Loretto for 200 years of powerful witness to working for justice and acting for peace because of the Gospel’s urgent call.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What Catholics Can Learn from Barack Obama’s “Coming Out” Story

May 15, 2012

In a Newsweek analysis article, gay Catholic commentator Andrew Sullivan has declared Barack Obama to be America’s “first gay president.”  The addition of a rainbow halo on the cover of the magazine (at right) adds a religious flavor to this title.  The article traces Mr. Obama’s notorious “evolution” on marriage equality, but the title of “first gay president” is given for a much more personal connection between the president and LGBT people.  In a long passage towards the end of the article, Sullivan poignantly points out:

“. . .[T]here is something on this subject [marriage equality] with Obama that goes deeper in my view than cold, calculating politics and a commitment to civil rights. The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn. They sense something inchoate, a separateness from their peers, a subtle estrangement from their families, the first sharp pangs of shame. And then, at some point, they find out what it all means. In the past, they often would retreat and withdraw, holding a secret they couldn’t even share with their parents—living as an insider outsider.

“And this, in a different way, is Obama’s life story as well. He was a black kid brought up by white grandparents and a white single mother in Hawaii and Indonesia, where his color really made no difference. He discovered his otherness when reading an old issue of Life magazine, which had a feature on African-Americans who had undergone an irreversible bleaching treatment to make them look white—because they believed being white was the only way to be happy. . . .

“Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. . . .

“This is the gay experience: the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation. It is easier today than ever. But it is never truly without emotional scar tissue. Obama learned to be black the way gays learn to be gay. . . .

“I have always sensed that he intuitively understands gays and our predicament—because it so mirrors his own. And he knows how the love and sacrifice of marriage can heal, integrate, and rebuild a soul. The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves. This has been Obama’s life’s work. And he just enlarged the space in this world for so many others, trapped in different cages of identity, yearning to be released and returned to the families they love and the dignity they deserve.”

I find this passage not only insightful about Barack Obama’s experience but that it also is applicable to the experience of LGBT Catholics.
Among the thousands of questions I’ve been asked over the past 20 years, the most common one, by far,  is why LGBT Catholics remain in the church.  Sullivan’s point that the gay experience is “the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation” is an excellent answer to that question.

The  LGBT Catholic experience is the experience of feeling different from one’s home community, but still knowing that it is home.  The challenge of such an experience is not the challenge of resolving all the tensions that such difference manifests, but in the discovery of a new community where one can also feel at home and which gives a person the strength and courage to live “without displacement, without alienation” in both settings.

Every single LGBT Catholic that I know who has remained a Catholic has done so because they have been able to find such a community.  Indeed, without such community, life would be unbearable and there would be no way to survive.  Community provides the example and support that one needs to navigate through the many demands of identity made on one’s life.  Community is the place where we learn that we can be ourselves and be part of something larger.  Community is the place where we learn to incorporate the many different aspects of our identity into an integral whole. Community is the place where we learn to be “at home” wherever we are and whoever we are.

Living out these tensions and negotiating these many demands upon the self are part of the gifts that LGBT people offer to the rest of the church.  Other Catholics stand to learn valuable lessons about identity and community if they open themselves up to the life and faith experiences of LGBT people.  As Sullivan pointed out, “The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves.”   That is a lesson that all people, gay and straight alike, can reap benefits and blessings.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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