Open Letter to Pope Francis: Help Save My Vocation

August 22, 2014
Benjamin Brenkert

Benjamin Brenkert

Guest Blogger: In an open letter to Pope Francis,  Benjamin Brenkert explains his decision to leave the Jesuits because of LGBTQ issues, and asks the pontiff to be stronger in his statements about LGBTQ equality.

Dear Pope Francis,

              In your time as Pope, your commitment to poverty has awakened the world to the evils of globalization, capitalism, and materialism. Many now understand poverty to be a structural sin and a social evil. Through your public statements you have sparked the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and atheists. The world looks to you as a shepherd, a man filled with the joy of the Gospel.

Yet, while you have focused on physical and material poverty, members of my community–lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and queer/questioning men, women and youth–have been neglected. They remain on the frontiers, the margins, living spiritually poor lives. Some need the voice of Cardinals like Walter Kasper to tell them that God loves them. Others know that God loves them, but Church leadership rejects them as disordered and disoriented. Your prophetic question “Who am I to judge?” encourages people everywhere to have a non-judgmental attitude towards members of the LGBTQ community. But being non-judgmental is not enough; especially when Jesus tells us to be like the Good Samaritan and “Go, Do likewise.”

But who am I to write you?

As an openly gay man, I’ve spent the past 10 years pursuing the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I am full of gratitude for this time. I loved being a Jesuit, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This July, I left the Jesuits in good standing.

Today, I can no longer justly or freely pursue ordination to the priesthood as a gay man in a Church where gay men and lesbian women are being fired from their jobs. The last straw for me was when a married lesbian social justice minister was fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City. 

Such marginalization is contrary to what many have called the “Francis Effect.”  These firings negate your emphasis on eradicating poverty by bringing men and women closer to physical and material poverty. Firing people because of their sexuality, or their right to marry, is discriminatory. It is unjust, especially since many Catholic institutions have employment non-discrimination disclaimers that state they are equal opportunity employers that comply with all federal, state and local laws which prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, age, gender, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status and arrest record.

In my decision letter to my Provincial I noted my awareness of how LGBTQ injustice contradicts the Gospel. Furthermore,  I pointed out how anti-gay legislation in countries like Uganda and Russia, and the subsequent lack of action by the Church, led me to start questioning my membership in the Church. As I pray about why I left the Society of Jesus, because of LGBTQ injustice in the Church, I continue to pray St. Ignatius’ Suscipe Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own. You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

I pray that God continues to give me the grace to fulfill my vows, to respond to the needs of our world, an Incarnated reality that needs an ecumenical Church–one that responds to the needs of the physically and spiritually poor together, as evidenced by Matthew 25. I long to not be a safe outsider or a fringe character.  Yet, I, an openly gay man, was told by my superiors to focus on other pastoral concerns. Why?

As an openly gay man I sought ordination because of God’s calling me to the priesthood. From the age of 15 I prayed to understand that question. I prayed not to run but to be found. Time and again vocation directors, spiritual directors, and superiors tested my deepest desires, my holiest longing, these men saw me as oriented not disordered, available to the priesthood for good and holy reasons.

As I entered the Jesuit Novitiate, God helped me to know myself, to see myself as a fully self-loving and integrated gay man. Over time, I saw that I had gifts to offer as a sensitive, empathic, joyful, loving, prayerful, articulate, multi-dimensional, well-educated minister. I understand myself to be priestly, despite my humanness and frailty.

Pope Francis, with my vocation evolving, I remain priestly. I write you to help save my vocation, whatever that might be in the future. I ask you to instruct the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholic institutions not to fire any more LGBTQ Catholics.  I ask you to speak out against laws that criminalize and oppress LGBTQ people around the globe. These actions would bring true life to your statement “Whom am I to judge?”

As I continue my transition as a member of the laity, I am reminded that like every Jesuit, I am “a sinner yet called to be a companion of Jesus as our founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola was.” And like many of my Jesuit brothers worldwide, gay or straight, I still reflect on the three principle questions of Jesuit and Ignatian prayer: “What have I done for Jesus?, What am I doing for Jesus?, and What will I do for Jesus?” For this, I am full of gratitude.

As a former Jesuit, I know that at the core of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is a meeting of God, others, and self. This meeting takes place in a dynamic way that draws on our human and godly desires for relationship and love. In short, it is a pilgrimage that places Jesus at the center of one’s life. This pilgrimage is open to homosexuals and heterosexuals. Jesus instructed us all to be good Samaritans,to “Go, Do Likewise.”

With love and affection,

Ben Brenkert

 

Related resources

Bondings 2.0  “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”

Call To Action:  Church Worker Justice

The Riverdale Press: “Priestly, but no longer a candidate for priesthood”


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: College LGBT Rankings Rooted in Misperceptions

August 21, 2014

Writing the “Campus Chronicles” series for this blog, I frequently report on the good works being done at Catholic colleges to promote acceptance and inclusion of LGBT community members. That is why I was again disappointed at the absence of Catholic schools on a couple of 2014 listings of the most LGBT-friendly campuses nationwide.

The Princeton Review failed to include any Catholic schools on its most LGBT-friendly ranking, but did include two on the twenty least LGBT-friendly listing, those being the University of Notre Dame (#9) and The Catholic University of America (#12).

Campus Pride, a national LGBT organization, claims its listing of most LGBT-friendly schools is more comprehensive than the Princeton Review listings because it is conducted “for and by LGBT experts in the field of higher education” without a profit motive. Though the organization makes this claim and also expanded its list from top 25 to top 50 this year, noting more than 80% of participating schools improved their rankings, Campus Pride failed to include any Catholic colleges as well.

Last year at this time, I claimed such rankings fail to reveal the full story about Catholic higher education. Now, I wonder why this absence exists in the first place. Are Catholic colleges failing to welcome LGBT students and employees? Are they inherently excluded because of their religious identity? Are there too few Catholic schools to be considered?

First, let’s look at the question of whether Catholic colleges are just not LGBT-friendly. I do not believe this to be true. As with any large field of members, Catholic colleges’ and universities’ responses to accepting diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are varied. I admit problems remain within the church’s higher education efforts. Traditional campuses like my alma mater, Catholic University, have a ways to go regarding LGBT acceptance. More progressive schools have also encountered obstacles, like Loyola Chicago’s decision to ban same-sex alumni from marrying in the campus’ chapel after marriage equality was legalized in Illinois.

However, there are numerous examples where schools are making progress and I would like to highlight a few from the past year:

  • DePaul University, Chicago, which regularly hosts LGBT workshops and student groups, celebrated its longtime and s successful LGBTQ Minor program.
  •  Georgetown University’s LGBTQ student group teamed up with Campus Ministry at the Washington, D.C. school to help students synthesize their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their faith.
  • Stonehill College, Massachusetts, warmly welcomed Sr. Jeannine Gramick who dialogued with students and faculty at the Holy Cross Fathers-administered school about inclusion.
  • Boston College Law School students applauded the administration’s rapid and supportive response to anti-gay vandalism, transforming the damage into a moment of healing and education.
  • The University of Notre Dame, Indiana began implementing its new pastoral plan, forming a successful student group and hiring staff for its new LGBT resource office.
  • One of the first college athletes to come out did so with the full support of coaches and peers at Benedictine College in Kansas.
  • Gonzaga University in Washington State announced new policies regarding housing, bathrooms, records changes, and medical care that are more trans-inclusive.
  • Georgetown University in Washington, DC, welcomed its first openly transgender students last fall and they spoke highly of how students and staff alike have affirmed their presence.
  • The University of San Diego stood by students organizing an annual drag show that came under fire from conservative Catholic groups.

These instances are those which made news headlines, and yhey do not include the countless daily efforts being made by thousands throughout Catholic higher education to ensure all are welcome.

Second  is the question of whether there are just two few Catholic colleges to choose from and highlight. Again this seems far fetched. There are more than 220 Catholic institutions of higher education in the US, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Of these, New Ways Ministry lists more than half on its listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges. Though the level of LGBT inclusion varies, the examples above and these numbers broken down seem to show there are Catholic campuses to choose from for the Princeton Review and Campus Pride rankings.

So why are Catholic schools absent? I think the reason comes down to a specific misconception about Catholicism and how educational institutions function within the church. A common narrative is that the Catholic Church is anti-LGBT because of the bishops’ views, thus when conflicts in Catholic education arise it is easy to dismiss all those involved in the Church as anti-gay. Nuanced understandings of church as the People of God, teachings on conscience and social justice, and the reality that most US Catholics support LGBT justice are lost in broader public discourse.

What these rankings fail to account for is this disparity between the hierarchy’s teaching and the lived reality of most Catholics. The rankings do not acknowledge the attempts to heal and divide communities, like at Providence College, where a poor decision to cancel a pro-gay lecture became a teaching moment and led to growth. They do not consider cases, like at Creighton University, where school officials stood up to conservative critics within the church about a music concert by a pro-gay performer. Ultimately, they fail to consider how passionately and firmly students and staff have stood up for LGBT inclusion — and have succeeded in so many instances.

I doubt Catholic higher education is alone in being incorrectly understood, as other religiously-affiliated schools from officially anti-LGBT denominations are also absent. However, as I wrote last year, Catholic schools can have a tremendous impact on the lives of the more than one million students they serve:

“Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators. With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.”

I do not expect the Princeton Review or Campus Pride to change their listings this year, but in the future a nod to the many and varied efforts being made to create Catholic campuses where all are welcome would do the cause of LGBT equality a lot of good.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Ugandan Archbishop: Do No Harm to Gay and Lesbian People

August 20, 2014

Archbishop John Baptist Odama

Amid reports that six LGBT people were stoned to death in Uganda last week, Archbishop John Baptist Odama is calling on his fellow Ugandans to respect the rule of law — and the lives of lesbian and gay people.

Odama, who heads the Uganda Episcopal Conference as well as the Archdiocese of Gulu, is quoted by PinkNews as saying:

” ‘Let us learn to love God’s human creatures…It is not that I am advocating for homosexual practice in the country, but we should not take laws into our hands to harm and hate the homosexuals because we all have weaknesses.’

” ‘The country has been struggling to have a law to criminalises [sic] homosexuality…However, the struggle has been frustrated by the constitutional courts.’

” ‘People should not take the laws into their hands and harm homosexuals, since they are also human beings though with different sexual feelings.’ “

Odama references a Ugandan court’s recent decision to strike down the nation’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in his comments. The former law, once known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because at one time it contained a death penalty provision for LGBT people, ended up mandating life imprisonment for those convicted of homosexual activity, and it banned the promotion of homosexuality. The court invalidated it on the technicality that Parliament did not have quorum when a vote on the Act was called. Legislators are now trying to re-pass a similar law having made procedural changes.

This is the first time in nearly four years of debate about this bill that a bishop in Uganda, where more than 40% of people are Catholic, has spoken up for the lives and dignity of LGBT people. In 2012, the Uganda’s bishops reversed their opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. After it was passed in 2014, the bishops conference remained quiet for weeks before several announced their support publicly at Easter.

However, Catholics worldwide have condemned anti-gay legislation at each step. Figures like Jesuit Fr. James Martiformer US ambassador to the Vatican Thomas Melady, and the papal nuncio to Uganda have all condemned the law, as well as organizations like the Equally Blessed coalition  and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. Students and alumni of Catholic colleges have organized against the law. In Uganda, Frank Mugisha, a gay advocate who is Catholic, has courageously led the struggle for LGBT justice.

Archbishop Odama’s statement is a hopeful, if limited, sign that the Catholic hierarchy is waking up to reality that such laws foster discrimination and violence against LGBT people. These laws also hinder HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, a point made clear by Catholic officials during July’s 20th International AIDS Conference.

But there is one voice noticeably absent as anti-gay laws increase, and that is Pope Francis. Even after people of faith worldwide have asked Pope Francis to clearly and openly condemn anti-gay legislation through the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, there has been no message from the pontiff. Bondings 2.0 has previously questioned why the pope has remained silent on this issue, and wondered how Catholics are to respond when church leaders, such as the Ugandan bishops, not only allow, but support anti-LGBT policies.

New Ways Ministry welcomes Archbishop Odama’s words, but we reiterate our request that Pope Francis take action to save lives and protect human dignity. If you would like to add your voice to the #PopeSpeakOut efforts through email, Facebook, and Twitter, click here.  Please share the news about this campaign with your contacts and social media networks.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: LCWR on Dialogue and Respecting Differences

August 19, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAs this morning’s post explained, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) recent meeting focused on the important topic of how to respond to the Vatican’s directive that their important decisions be overseen by the Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed to this position by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The LCWR leadership released a statement in which they said they will continue respectful dialogue with the Vatican concerning the directive.  In that statement, they reflected beautifully on the need for dialogue and respect for differences in our Church:

“We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences. We know that thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. We believe that the ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service.”

May it ever be so!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Suppport LGBT People

August 19, 2014

Last week, I attended the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.  Over 800 nuns were there for their annual gathering, and this year, the number one item on the agenda was the discussion of how to respond to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has required that the LCWR be overseen by Archbishop Peter Sartain.    The CDF’s directive comes after a doctrinal investigation of the LCWR, and their support for lesbian and gay ministry (and their support for New Ways Ministry was singled out as one of the problems), was cited as a problem.

The Sisters were undaunted.  Although understandably concerned about the Vatican’s judgment (at stake is whether LCWR will be canonically recognized, i.e., have an official relationship with the Holy See), this did not stop them from expressing their support for LGBT people, and New Ways Ministry.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, and I staffed an exhibit table at the conference, as we have done for over 20 years.  Scores of nuns stopped by our table and encouraged us in our ministry and expressing gratitude that we were there at the conference.  Many told stories of attending New Ways Ministry programs over the years, and how the attitudes of the women in their communities have grown more positive.  Some told us stories of the personal struggle of LGBT family members who have been hurt by the church, and of the sisters’ efforts to maintain some connection with these alienated individuals.

“Keep going!” they told us,  “Our church needs this kind of outreach!”

So, despite being under a dark cloud of Vatican suspicion, the nuns were standing firm in regards to LGBT issues.  For them this is not a question of sexual ethics, but a question of justice, and, even more so, a question of relationship.  It is their relationships and dialogues with LGBT people that have opened their hearts and minds.  It is their long-standing relationship and support of New Ways Ministry that keeps them welcoming us to their conference every year, even when they are dealing with their own troubles.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

On Sunday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, published an essay entitled “Sister Acts” in which he praised nuns for their courage, resilience, humility, and forthrightness in proclaiming the gospel through their actions. One of the nuns he cited is New Ways Ministry’s own Sister Jeannine Gramick, of whom he writes:

“Another remarkable nun is Sister Jeannine Gramick, who, while working toward a doctorate in mathematics, met a gay Catholic man who asked for religious help. She organized a home service for him that grew into a regular liturgy for gay Catholics in private homes.

“In 1977, she helped found New Ways Ministry to support gay and lesbian Catholics. The Vatican tried to suppress her, and her order, the Loretto Sisters, was instructed at least nine times to dismiss her. It passively resisted.

“ ‘The Vatican tried to silence me,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza, ‘and it just didn’t work.’

“At a time when much of Christianity denounced gays and lesbians, Sister Jeannine was a beacon of compassion and struggled to educate the church she loved.

“ ‘People always emphasize sex, sex, sex,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza. ‘And it isn’t about sex. It is about love. It is who you fall in love with that makes you lesbian and gay. Love is the important thing here, not sex.’ ”

Sister Jeannine’s story and opinion reflects the ideas of the majority of American nuns.  As I mentioned above, relationship with people is what is important for these women, and Sister Jeannine’s ministry began with the friendship she developed with a gay man.  And for her, like for so many nuns, love, not sex, is the important quality of a romantic relationship.

Kristof praises the nuns, saying:

“. . . in a world of narcissism and cynicism, they constitute an inspiring contingent of moral leaders who actually walk the walk.”

The sisters’ example of “walking the walk” with LGBT people is an exercise that many bishops should emulate.  If bishops would open their hearts–and their ears–the way nuns have, the Church’s inequality for LGBT people could dissolve overnight.

I am always very fond of telling people that New Ways Ministry has been able to thrive for over 37 years because we have always had the support of the sisters in our church.  They have hosted most of our educational programs, and they have continually supported with us with prayers, financial contributions, and hospitality, not to mention the frequent messages of support that I described above.

When the LCWR meeting ended, Sister Jeannine and I traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, with the hope of meeting with priests there to advise and encourage them to develop LGBT ministry and outreach there.  As it turned out, no priests materialized, but, not surprisingly, a community of Sisters of Mercy, the youngest of whom was in her 60s, welcomed us, offered us hospitality, and were open to doing what they can to support the LGBT community in eastern Tennessee.

The nuns continue to lead the way for an inclusive and welcoming church!  Let’s pray in gratitude for their lives and love!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

May 19, 2014: “U.S. Catholics Stand with Nuns As Vatican Crackdown Re-Emerges


Pope Francis’ Trip to Philly Could Change Conversations on Family Life

August 18, 2014

Pope Francis clowns it up as he congratulates a newly married couple in Rome.

Pope Francis is (most likely) coming to Philadelphia in 2015 and many Catholics are already offering their welcome to him, as well as an invitation to advance LGBT acceptance in the church.

Given that he is coming for the World Meeting of Families, many are also wondering whether Pope Francis will include all families on the agenda for the meeting

Mark Segal writes to the pope in The Inquirer that he is joyful about the papal visit, hoping that it will “bring people together to learn tolerance and understanding” in keeping with the Pontifical Council for the Family’s stated mission. Segal, who is editor of Philadelphia Gay News, continues:

“While the pope’s visit here would be about promoting the value and values of families – and I believe that is something we all can embrace – it must include all families. That would mean including families in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community who, unfortunately, have not felt comfortable and at times have been aggressively targeted by the church…

“This denial of LGBT families denigrates those family members and makes them feel less than human. Imagine how the children in those families feel when other children belittle them for having two mothers or two fathers. Or how do parents explain to their child that they were fired because they married their spouse?”

Segal believes that dialogue will help bridge the divide within the Catholic community and between the church and LGBT communities, helping to heal wounds and make amends–and ultimately to promote stronger, more fruitful family life.

But this can only happen through Pope Francis’ leadership, who can be the necessary impetus to change the US bishops’ narrative when it comes to LGBT people and their families. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life writes in Time that Pope Francis’ visit is “a unique opportunity to have a conversation about families that moves past the usual culture war flash points.”

Gehring notes that visit will come at a crucial point for religion and politics in the U.S., with upcoming 2016 presidential campaigns assuredly underway with a full docket of Catholic candidates. It will also likely occur with even more states having legalized marriage equality and expanded LGBT non-discrimination rights, and predictable controversies as Catholic leaders grapple with this new reality. Gehring is not hopeful that the U.S. bishops will respond positively. He stated:

“While Catholic bishops once helped inspire social reforms that took root in the New Deal and challenged Reagan-era economic and military policies, these days bishops are more likely to be known for opposing the Violence Against Women Act, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, health care reform legislation that became the Affordable Care Act and breezily mentioning President Obama’s administration in the same breath as Hitler and Stalin

“Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, who will be the first to greet Pope Francis when his plane touches down next fall, is regarded as the new intellectual leader of the culture warrior camp. While Pope Francis made headlines for saying it was not his place to judge gays and lesbians, Chaput once defended a pastor for his refusal to enroll two girls, ages 5 and 3, in a Denver Catholic school after it became known their parents were lesbians.”

Indeed, America’s bishops have not ceased opposing marriage equality, even as several anti-LGBT campaigners admit it is a lost cause. There is a troubling rise in the firing of LGBT church workers, as more come out publicly and get married. Theologian Massimo Faggioli is quoted in Gehring’s article saying that the US bishops “are the most difficult team Pope Francis has to work with because sociologically and culturally the are in a different place.” To change the conversation on marriage and family life, Pope Francis will have to challenge the US episcopacy’s status quo. It will not be easy, but his first year has proven that this is not just any other papacy.

To start, perhaps the pope could take Archbishop Chaput and others on a tour around Philly with Kate Childs Graham, who offered her thoughts in the National Catholic Reporter about 10 touristy things the pope could do, including praying at the city’s famous “LOVE” sculpture.  As Childs Graham notes:  “It’s all we need.”

In terms of messages, policies, and gestures, what do you think the pope will do at the meeting in Philadelphia?  What do you think he should do?

Where do you think he should visit not just in Philadelphia, but anywhere in the United States?  Who do you think he should meet with?

What are your hopes for the World Meeting of Families?  What are your fears?

Offer your answers to these questions and other reactions to the opinions expressed above in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fired Music Director Receives Standing Ovation at Town Hall Meeting

August 17, 2014

Holy Family Catholic Church

700 parishioners met at a suburban Chicago parish last Wednesday to discuss the firing of gay music director Colin Collette, who was let go in late July after his engagement to partner, William Nifong, became public.

The firing, and others like it, raises questions about how Catholic communities will proceed in an era where marriage equality is increasingly legalized, and also how they Catholics can respond to the worrying trend of LGBT-related church worker firings.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the three-hour meeting was emotionally charged, and attendees were largely supportive of the fired gay church worker, who was welcomed with a standing ovation. The paper reported:

“Angry, tearful parishioners stood in line at the crowded church, each taking a turn to beg church leaders to bring back their longtime music director…

“As other parishioners looked on, a cantor announced his resignation from the choir, citing other prominent ‘sinners’ in Christian history who retained high-ranking positions and questioning why a gay couple’s marriage is any different. Over the past two weeks, some parishioners have also threatened to leave the church over the music director’s ouster.”

The resigned cantor, Kevin Keane, told the Tribune that Collette “has given his entire life to the church…if he’s not fit to serve, then I am not fit to serve.” Another parishioner, Bob Garbacz said, “Whoever made the decision, it was a bad decision…He’s just a pillar of that community. For the church to say you can’t be here because of this rule is ludicrous to us.”

Fr. Terry Keehan, pastor of Holy Family Church, called the “Town Hall Meeting for Listening and Respect” to address the “many and varied emotions” expressed by community members about Collette’s firing. In the same bulletin announcement that publicized the meeting, Keehan defended the firing: “Employees who make such choices cannot remain employed by the Archdiocese” and he said the situation was “very complicated and complex.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago, through spokesperson Susan Burritt defended the firing, saying it was not because of Collette’s sexual orientation but because of his “public stance against the teachings of the Church,” and that “the archdiocese does not expect to see more public challenges to the church policy.”

The idea that Collette’s firing and the ensuing public outcry are isolated incidents is an idea that is out of touch with the current history. LGBT-related firings are on the rise with fourteen public cases so far this year and more than 35 since 2008. Legally, it seems some of these firing are justified under the “ministerial exception” carved about by the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court’s Hosanna-Tabor decision. The reality for religious communities however is that, in most of these cases, Catholics openly stood by church workers and sought justice.

The conflict between officials  who enact these unjust decisions and a laity which is strongly affirming of LGBT people will only intensify if the firings continue. Societal acceptance of same-gender relationships is ever-rising and marriage rights ever-expanding, with Catholics at the forefront of LGBT support. Gregory Lipper with Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains:

” ‘I don’t think this approach is going to be sustainable in the long run by churches…Unless you really ask upfront, chances are, houses of worship are going to end up hiring people who are gays and lesbians…I think the gap between church leadership and the gap between Americans will grow wider.”

While pastors like Fr. Keehan may see town hall meetings as a way of promoting healing, reconciliation never comes without justice. Collette had sought to return as music director by becoming a private contractor, but Keehan rejected this proposal at a separate meeting. Formed by Catholic social teaching, parishioners do not accept exclusionary policies as consistent with the Gospel message. For them, these situations are not complicated, nor are they complex. They are simple cases of discrimination that demand to be rectified.

Collette plans to continue worshiping at Holy Family, and it is good to know he will be welcomed with open arms by those whom he long served.

You can help protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school. You can find information on how to do that by clicking here. For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Does a Martyr’s Sexual Orientation Matter? James Martin, SJ, says “Yes!”

August 16, 2014

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a gay man? This question about the famed theologian and martyr’s private life will likely never be answered conclusively, but evidence points to ‘yes’ — and this ‘yes’ has major implications according to Jesuit Fr. James Martin.

Martin published a Facebook post (and Twitter) last Wednesday taking up the question of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality after reading a new biography of the German theologian , Strange Glory by Charles Marsh. After offering high praise for Marsh’s work, Martin writes:

“But the biggest surprise for me was his intense, even romantic, relationship with his friend Eberhard Bethge. It was something that I don’t remember reading before. Was Bonhoeffer gay? It would seem so, particularly based on his letters to Bethge. Yes, I know that times were different and men often wrote passionate letters to one another, but Marsh’s book, without sensationalizing the matter all (and underlining the fact that the relationship was not physical), makes it hard for the reader to draw any other conclusion. It’s one of the most striking aspects of the book: Bonhoeffer seemed first infatuated and then in love with Bethge.”

Linked to Martin’s post is an interview with Marsh from Religion and Politics. He explains why one can comfortably conclude Bonhoeffer was a gay man:

“Over the years, I’ve gone to many Bonhoeffer conferences. This subject has been discussed often over meals and drinks and beers, but it’s never been discussed in an academic session or a lecture. But there’s been conversation among scholars for as long as I can remember. What I had that scholars didn’t have, and do now, is the body of letters that Bonhoeffer and Eberhard exchanged…

“The challenge for trying to narrate this complicated relationship is, on the one hand, it was a chaste relationship. It was a relationship that was centered on their shared love of Jesus and shared devotional practices and it had a kind of liturgical shape to it…Even so, in a curious letter—I think it’s kind of a humorous letter—after Bonhoeffer had matched Eberhard’s engagement with his own engagement, he wrote to say, ‘Now, we can resume our partnership, and we can travel together in those places where we found so much joy, and we can leave our wives back in Germany, in Berlin, or some place.’…

“[T]his is not my own attempt to sensationalize a relationship. If anything, I tried to capture it and respect it in its uniqueness, and not politicize it or insinuate. It was understood as a unique relationship, a different kind of relationship, in 1935 and 1936. The letters that we have now between Bonhoeffer and Eberhard are love letters, at least Bonhoeffer’s letters to Eberhard.”

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian when he died in 1945, executed by the Nazis for his involvement in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler. In life and in death, Bonhoeffer has inspired Christians to be engaged in the historical events of this world and has helped Christians do theology from the perspective of suffering and marginalized peoples. So what to make of these letters and Bonhoeffer’s sexuality in general? Martin concludes:

“Does it matter if Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay or not? Yes it does. Very much. It matters because it reminds us that people with homosexual orientations can be holy–very holy, even martyrs.”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Rev. James Martin, SJ

This is not the first time that James Martin, who is editor-at-large for America magazine, has highlighted LGBT issues in a positive light. Last year, he called on Catholic leaders to #SaySomethingPositive about lesbian and gay people — or at the very least not include critiques each time they made a statement on LGBT issues. Martin also applauded NBA player Jason Collins for coming out and commemorated PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford on his Facebook page. Most recently, he explored the reasons why LGBT people feel the Catholic Church hates them and offered suggestions for improving this dynamic.

Highlighting the reality that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals are not only members of Christ’s body, but frequently in the ranks of saints and martyrs.  They make important contributions to a church that is not yet fully inclusive. To help create respect for the positive contributions LGBT church workers and ministers are making in our world today, it is sometimes helpful to look to the past and see all that LGBT and ally people have done.

Bonhoeffer’s life is but one example, but it is a most powerful one. Let us pray that more Catholic leaders will acknowledge this reality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Public School Religion Teacher in Canary Islands Fired by Catholic Bishop

August 15, 2014

Catholic education will continue to suffer as more LGBT and ally educators are fired.

Luis Alberto González taught as a married gay man for two years, but, for the first time in fifteen years, he will not be returning to school this fall.  He was told by a local bishop it is “no longer appropriate” that he teach religion at a public school in the Canary Islands, a Spanish autonomous community off the coast of Africa.

González, formerly a Catholic priest, married his husband in 2012.  Aware that Spanish law grants Catholic bishops hiring and firing abilities related to religion teachers in public schools, González was forthright and wrote to his local bishop about the marriage. In letter to the editor entitled “Good News” to the Spanish daily El País, González wrote:

“I got married civilly to another man in 2012. The fact would not be very significant except that I work in Lanzarote as a professor of Religion at two institutes. At the end of the school year in which the union took place, I considered it appropriate, for openness, put my job in the bishop’s hands (in writing even)…

“Therefore, I assumed I would be fired, but my employment contract has been renewed year after year. Either the bishop of Canarias doesn’t consider the matter very important, or he’s taking a new approach to the issue in his jurisdiction. In either case, it’s good news.”

However, it seems the “Good News” letter has now led to his firing. The Diocese of Canarias reported he has been fired by the bishop.  In a fax to González, the diocese explained:

“For reasons of doctrine and morality and under canon law, your suitability as a religion teacher is retracted.”

There is some confusion as the Canary Island’s Ministry of Education still lists González as a teacher and Deputy Minister of Education Manuela Armas said there had been no communication to his office from the diocese.

For his part,González is resigned to the firing and said he “knew it could happen.” González asserts that he may no longer meet criteria for religion teachers set forth by the Spanish hierarchy, and he is only demanding that he be fairly compensated and allowed to access unemployment benefits.

More broadly, González wonders about the “manipulation of beliefs by those who have power in religion” and says Catholicism should not institutionally seek to ‘get into’ every aspect of people’s lives. Iglesia Descalza reports that the fired educator remains hopeful and has promised to remain in the Catholic Church to continue affecting change:

“The teacher argues that ‘there are elements of the citizenry, such as the people who make up the educational community, who don’t think it’s bad for someone who is gay and married to teach religion, but as you go up the pyramid of the Catholic hierarchy, one is aware that they’re on a different wavelength, advocating certain themes, including ones that could be considered medieval.’ …

” ‘There will always be those who will say that the Church is like a club. If you don’t want to be there, go. I, however, argue — and I’ve been a priest — that you can help change it from within…The Church itself has to be revised, take up these debates normally and face them.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

El País (in Spanish): “El Obispado de Canarias expulsa a un profesor gay casado”

Iglesia Descalza (English translation of  El País article): “Diocese of Canarias expels married gay teacher”


Gay Coach Will Keep His Job at Catholic High School

August 14, 2014

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Last Saturday, Bondings 2.0 reported on the coming out of Nate Alfson, coach at a South Dakota Catholic high school, and raised the question of whether the school administrators would allow him to remain employed. Now it is clear that St. Mary’s High School will welcome the newly-out Alfson with open arms.

After coming out in an article for OutSports, Alfson, who coaches volleyball and baseball, met Tuesday with administrators. It was in this meeting Alfson was told he could keep his job, of which the Argus Leader reports the coach saying:

” ‘We talked about being on the same page as each other and that they were willing to walk through this with me and support me…They want me to be their volleyball coach again and that I was a great role model to the athletes.’ …

” ‘I couldn’t be happier that they are supportive and want me to be a part of the coaching team…It’s a sense of relief to be able to move forward and focus on volleyball and the girls. This season is about them and the hard work they put in. The support has been amazing and I can’t wait to live a free life.’ “

School administrators did not comment, though the Diocese of Sioux Falls released a statement saying gay church workers are welcome to work as long as their lifestyles were deemed chaste, the same expectations made of heterosexual workers.  (Though the definitions of chastity are different for these two groups.)

Alfson’s decision to come out publicly was a courageous one, especially with so many recent instances of LGBT church workers being fired for telling the truth about their lives. New Ways Ministry tracks the firing and resignations of LGBT and ally church workers. Fourteen people have been forced out this year alone. I was worried that after writing about Alfson’s deeply personal and wise article, I would shortly be writing the story about his firing too. That St. Mary’s administrators are willing to stand by Alfson and foremost follow Catholic teachings on the dignity of each person and social justice, especially relating to labor issues, is a hopeful sign.

This development comes in the same week that news broke that a high school run by the Sisters of Mercy dedicated their athletic field to alumna Abby Wamback, an internationally famous athlete who is also a married lesbian.

Now, it is essential for Catholic schools to keep this momentum going. The last two weeks, staff members from New Ways Ministry have attended annual meetings for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the two separate organizations of the leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities in the U.S. While at these meetings, New Ways Ministry is asking these leaders  to implement LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies at their schools and institutions.   At our exhibit table, we are distributing a brochure explaining how such policies can be adopted.  While non-committal, the leaders’ responses have been positive to this idea.

Additionally, you can advocate for LGBT and ally church workers by raising the issue of non-discrimination policies within their your local parish or Catholic school. Below are suggestions for how you can make a difference:

1. Educate Yourself. Learn more about the current challenges LGBT church workers face, including firings, by reading Francis DeBernardo’s essay in Conscience magazine. You can find that by clicking hereBondings 2.0 also lists every LGBT-related public firing at a Catholic institution since 2008 on our “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page. There you will find further information about each case. Finally, you can read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage by checking out the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right and to receive the latest updates enter your email in the “Subscribe” box in the upper right hand of this page.”

2. Take Action. Adding a sufficient non-discrimination policy at your local Catholic institution could be as simple as adding the following: “(Name of parish, school, or institution) will not discriminate in employment practices on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and personal support for marriage equality.” For more tips on establishing LGBT-inclusive policies, click here.

3. Connect. If you want help with adopting a non-discrimination policy or anything related to Catholic LGBT employment issues, you can contact New Ways Ministry by emailing info@newwaysministry.org or calling (301) 277-5674 for further resources and information.

Now that Nate Alfson is proudly out and ready to return to coaching, he told reporters: “I can breath, I can smile, and I’m not afraid to cry, and I’m not afraid to feel what I’m feeling.” It is past time to make this sense of freedom and authenticity normative for every teacher, student, administrator, parent, and alumni involved with Catholic education. What difference will you make this fall?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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