CAMPUS CHRONICLES: USD Drag Show Draws Fire, But Is Really a Moment for Encounter

April 16, 2014

University of San Diego students at the drag show.

The decision by the University of San Diego (USD), a Catholic school, to host a drag show was controversial, catching even the Vatican’s eye. However, one professor there says there is much more to this drag show than critics understand and it should be a moment for learning.

“Supreme Drag Superstar III” was the third annual drag show at USD, hosted by the campus’ LGBT group called PRIDE and promoted as a “celebration of gender expression.” According to U-T San Diego, the show features “a brief academic talk on the history cross-dressing and information booths,” in addition to the costumed musical performances.

Two local attorneys, Charles LiMandri and Thomas McKenna, protested the drag show by writing to the Diocese of San Diego and the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican. The Diocese refused to comment and the Congregation turned down their complaint as it “lacks standing” for action against the University.

For its part, the University of San Diego has defended the show. Tim O’Malley, a spokesperson, said nothing about it violates Catholic teaching and stated further:

“We do not mean to demean our critics. Gender expression and identity, for some people, is not an area to be explored. For some people, that simply is wrong…However, the law of the church is silent on cross dressing. There no evidence that cross dressing is inherently homosexual.”

Emily Reimer-Barry, a theology and religious studies professor at USD, wrote about drag shows and transgender people in a post on the blog Catholic Moral Theology. She explains that each semester she invites a trans person to speak to undergraduate courses in sexual ethics in an effort to complicate and humanize what students preconceptions about the transgender community. While the post includes helpful definitions and suggestions, she also makes clear the importance of events like USD’s drag show, relating it to a transgender friend of hers, Jackie:

“Each time I hear Jackie’s personal story, I realize that Catholic parishes and Catholic institutions (like hospitals and universities) have a long way to go before all transgendered people will feel welcomed and included. I’m proud that at the University of San Diego we are trying to raise awareness of these issues in events like last night’s PRIDE’s Celebration of Gender Expression Supreme Drag Superstar. The drag show is fun as well as educational, and it helps students on my campus think more concretely and creatively about sexuality, gender, inclusion, and justice…

“For those who find such an event to be inconsistent with the Catholic identity of the university, I would suggest that to be church in our world today means engaging with the full reality of human experiences. It is a problem that so few people are aware of the terminology and basic facts about diverse expressions of gender identity.”

Furthermore, Reimer-Barry believes the drag show allows for self-reflection on how each person performs a gender identity and how we relate to our self in terms of sexuality and gender. This reflection helps with how we view the experiences of others, and “learn more about the diversity of God’s creation.” To conclude, she appeals to Pope Francis’ witness, writing:

“Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium: ‘Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God’ (no. 272). The pope reminds us that ‘A Church which goes forth is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others.’ (no. 46). What powerful words in this context– What would it mean to have the doors of the church open to the transgender community? What would it mean to walk with students who are questioning their gender identity?…if the drag show helps GLBTQ students and their allies at my school to know that they are loved, supported, and included in this community, then we are doing something good and something special.

“I believe we need a much deeper theo-ethical engagement on these issues. The natural law tradition of Catholic theology invites us to reflect on human experience in order to draw norms about what promotes human flourishing; yet theologians sometimes collapse or confuse sex and gender, or we fail to include the life experiences of GLBTQ persons in our methodologies…We may think we have a long way to go, but a framework of listening and learning from the experiences of others will help us achieve much. This theology of accompaniment, like the drag show, can be a fun learning experience. And we can realize together that in the eyes of God each one of us is fabulous.”

Drag shows have previously caused controversies at Catholic schools and parishes, including in San Francisco and in New York. Thankfully, the University has defended the student-led drag show to promote awareness of the complexities surrounding gender and sexuality. What if other Catholic institutions, often so quick to shut down such initiatives, thought like Reimer-Barry and saw drag shows as an opportunity to see God in new ways and offer support to LGBT people?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


EXCLUSIVE: Why Catholics Should Affirm Civil Marriage Equality

April 15, 2014
Professor Lisa Fullam

Professor Lisa Fullam

A new theological argument in favor of Catholic support for civil same-sex marriage is being published today on Bondings 2.0.  The article is written by Professor Lisa Fullam, an associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California.   You can access the full text of the article on its own page by clicking here.

Entitled “Civil Same-Sex Marriage:  A Catholic Affirmation,” Prof. Fullam’s essay uses the Catholic intellectual tradition to argue that support for civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is in line with our church’s best ideas about marriage, civil society, and church-state relations.  It deserves a full and thoughtful reading by all who are concerned with these issues.

The problem with the current Catholic debate on civil marriage, according to Fullam, is that it is both too broad and too narrow. In the article’s abstract, she states:

“Too broad: civil same-sex marriage is sometimes described as parallel to same-sex marriage in the Church. Too narrow: some Catholic contributions to the discussion have centered on reproductive capacity, ignoring Catholicism’s rich tradition which values marriage beyond procreation.”

The essay is divided into three sections:

  1. a discussion of how Catholic thought understands civil law;
  2. a critique of magisterial statements in the public debate about marriage;
  3. an enumeration or reasons why Catholics might work for marriage equality.

Fullam’s essay is both theologically rich and relevant to contemporary lives. For example, her working definition of the traditional concept of  “natural law” begins with a full accounting of human nature, which she defines as:

“. . . the capacities and potential excellences of the human creature, seen in the light of the best knowledge available to us—biological, psychological, sociological, philosophical (including theological,) spiritual, artistic, historic (including personal experience), etc. Natural law is sometimes confused with the biological functions of human bodies, but this misunderstanding fails to consider human nature in this fuller sense, that we are rational and creative discerners of meaning, seeking to grow in virtue, aided by the grace of God. To see how the natural law guides us in a given situation is to think deeply about how the question before us is best resolved for the flourishing of ourselves and our societies. “

Among the most thought-provoking part of the essay is her critique of magisterial arguments against same-sex marriage, including those from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope John Paul  II’s “Theology of the Body.”   By basing her argument in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, which acknowledged that marriages served both unitive and procreative ends, Fullam shows how leaders like the U.S. bishops have narrowed down the Council’s teaching on marriage:

“According to the bishops, the ‘communion of persons’ of Gaudium et Spes is revealed in the procreative capacity of couples: while the Council taught that non-procreative marriages are still marriages, the USCCB roots the unitive end of marriage in the procreative possibility of heterosexual marriage.”

In the last section, Fullam shows how the magisterium’s focus on procreation leads to many inconsistencies in their approach to civil marriage and family life.  For example, she notes the situation of adoption:

“Those who raise children not biologically their own are reaching beyond a reproductive imperative to a spiritually-resonant act of profound devotion. They make a great contribution to the common good. To base the social value of marriage on the potential for biological procreation would be to ignore the generosity of adoptive parents, and to render their families somehow unnatural or second-class. This would be a fundamental injustice to those families, and an odd reversal of Christian tradition that emphasizes caring for those in need. “

And she ponders what other civil laws might be needed if a view of marriage that has procreation as its definition were to take hold in secular society:

“Unless we are willing to redefine civil marriage in reproductive terms–perhaps automatically divorcing couples who do not reproduce in a reasonable amount of time, for instance, or denying marriage to women of a certain age or those who are sterile by choice or by happenstance–in denying civil marriage to same-sex couples, we discriminate against them precisely because they are homosexual, a form of unjustifiable discrimination that is contrary to Catholic social teaching.”

Fullam’s essay gives solid, theological underpinnings to the hopes of so many Catholics whose consciences have told them that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is a matter of justice.  By grounding her thought in both Thomas Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council, Fullam shows just how Catholic an argument for marriage equality can be.  Reading through this essay will help all those who often find themselves challenged by Catholic opponents to marriage equality.  And it will also give them a deeper understanding and appreciation of our Catholic faith and intellectual tradition.

You can read the entire essay on Bondings 2.0 by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Homelessness Advocate Asks Pope Francis to Protect LGBT Youth

April 14, 2014

Siciliano’s letter as printed in the New York Times

The head of the largest shelter i the U.S.  for homeless  LGBT youth has written an open letter to Pope Francis asking for his support for these teens.

Carl Siciliano’s letter, published as a full-page ad in The New York Times, asks the pope to counter the religious rejection of LGBT youth by their families which is so often the cause of homelessness. Siciliano is founder and executive director of the Ali Forney Center in New York City, and also a former Benedictine monk and gay Catholic man.

In the letter reported on by LGBTQ Nation, he urges Pope Francis to reverse the hierarchy’s teaching that homogenital acts are wrong and that a homosexual orientation is disordered, writing:

“I ask you to take urgent action to protect them from the devastating consequences of religious rejection, which is the most common reason LGBT youths are driven from their homes. At the heart of the problem is that the church still teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that being gay is disordered. I hope that if you understand how this teaching tears families apart and brings suffering to innocent youths, you will end this teaching and prevent your bishops from fighting against the acceptance of LGBT people as equal members of society…

“What these youths endure is horrific. They endure the torment of being unloved and unwanted by their parents, combined with the ordeals of hunger, cold and sexual exploitation while homeless. LGBT youths who are rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youths whose parents accept them…

“A teaching’s wisdom and efficacy must be judged in part by its outcome. The teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin has a poisonous outcome, bearing fruit in many Christian parents who abandon their LGBT children to homelessness and destitution. How could a good seed yield such a bitter harvest?”

Siciliano cites shocking statistics that while LGBT youth only make up 5% of the youth population, they comprise 40% 0f homeless youth. That’s a minimum of 200,000 homeless LGBT youth last year in the US alone. He ties this to Pope Francis’ obvious love for the poor, and writes further:

“Jesus Christ is never recorded as having said a word in judgment or condemnation of homosexuality or of LGBT people. He spoke of a loving, compassionate God, and commanded his followers to act with love and compassion. Jesus spoke of God as a loving parent who would never abandon his children.”

The letter’s appearance in the Times was funded by Faith in America, which educates about the harm caused by religious-based stigma. Brent Childers, who heads up the organization, said in a press statement:

“Pope Francis has the opportunity to lead faith communities around the world in gifting parents of LGBT youth with an unconditional spiritual embrace, a gift which most surely will bring peace to these lives and these families.”

The letter was accompanied by a new Facebook page and Change.org petition. This  initiative ties LGBT justice to Pope Francis’ existing concern for the homeless and those experiencing poverty. Hopefully, Siciliano’s letter and the surrounding efforts will open the pope’s eyes to how disproportionately these issues affect LGBT youth.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Palm Sunday: Are We More Like Judas Than We Care to Admit?

April 13, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for Palm Sunday are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66.

judas - last supper“He went off and hanged himself.”

These are the last words recorded by the Gospel writer about Judas Iscariot.  How did it come to this?  Why did Judas meet such a tragic end?

Judas was no casual acquaintance of Jesus.  He was an apostle, a member of Jesus’ closest circle of friends and followers.  Judas walked the long, dusty roads of Palestine with Jesus and shared his message of God’s tender love for every person.  They shared meals and idle time with each other.  They were more like brothers than friends.  But somehow things went bad.

Jesus tells his disciples fifteen times in the Gospels to not be afraid.  By the standard of sheer repetition, this message must have been very important to Jesus and the God he proclaimed.  And the problem with Judas was that he was terribly afraid.

Judas was afraid that his trust in Jesus was misplaced — that the reign of God as Jesus described it was not enough for him anymore — so Judas approached Jesus’ enemies and offered to hand him over for a paltry sum of silver.  Judas was afraid to acknowledge the truth of his betrayal, so he lied to Jesus (and perhaps to himself) during the Last Supper.  Judas was afraid that his betrayal put him outside God’s mercy and love, so he hanged himself from a tree.

Fear led Judas to his tragic end.

I do not think Judas was a traitor worthy of scorn and damnation, but a fallible human compelled by fear who made a series of very grave mistakes.  He is worthy of our compassion, particularly since we who are LGBT Catholics and allies may be a bit more like Judas than we want to admit.  I do not suggest that we betray Jesus anew in our own day and time, but that sometimes our choices are compelled by fear rather than love.  Let me explain.

Many of us experience a certain degree of fear when considering whether or not to say or do something about LGBT justice in our church.  Many “what if” questions emerge, and we quickly imagine the worst possible consequences to our actions.  For example, “what if my fellow parishioners reject me when I share that I’m gay?”  Or, “what if my pastor denies me communion because I want to civilly marry my same-gender partner?”  Or, “what if the bishop finds out about our welcoming LGBT parish ministry and forces us to close it?”  The questions are many and varied.  But instead of responding to each concern with thoughtful and life-giving discernment, we are tempted to let fear cripple us into inaction.  Unfortunately, similar to Judas, that fear leads us away from building the reign of God and toward our own emotional and spiritual death.

Jesus offers us an alternative to fear and death.  He says, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.”  The bold and prophetic example of Jesus helps to free us from fear, from all that holds us back from working for LGBT justice in our church.  Instead of giving into our fears like Judas, may we have courage to live and share our own truths with one another.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues

April 12, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has made his most specific and critical statement about families headed by same-gender couples by stating that children should be raised “in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”

The Advocate’s Michael O’Loughlin reported that the remarks were made in the context of an address to a delegation from the International Catholic Child Bureau.  The pope’s comments, in context, were:

“it is necessary to emphasize the right of children to grow up within a family, with a father and a mother able to create a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity. Continuing to mature in the relationship, in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, and thus preparing the way for emotional maturity.”

Pope Francis further stated:

“Working for human rights presupposes keeping anthropological formation alive, being well-prepared regarding the reality of the human person, and knowing how to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary cultures and mentalities that are spread by the mass media. . . .

“At times it is necessary to flee; at times it is necessary to stop to protect oneself; and at times one must fight. But always with tenderness.”

For those who have been lifted up by the pope’s more positive remarks on LGBT issues, these new words will come as a shock.  Though the pontiff has been developing a reputation as being progressive, many have warned all along that his thinking on women and gender have needed development.  Since the heart of these remarks focus on the outdated concept of “gender complementarity,” it seems reasonable to attribute these remarks, in part, to this blind spot of his.

Regardless of its origin in the pope’s thinking, this remark shows that Francis still needs to learn a lot about LGBT people and their families.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that he seems open to learning more about sexuality and gender issues, witnessed in his call for lay people to provide their opinions on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the October 2014 synod on those topics.

This new statement seems to be stated in the typical style that Pope Francis has used over the past year: while he expresses support for heterosexual marriage and family structures, he definitely avoids any direct attacks against LGBT people and relationships.  It sometimes seemed that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, went out of his way to criticize and condemn LGBT issues.  That is not Pope Francis’ style.  In a recent general audience he spoke about the beauty of heterosexual marriage, but did not use the praise of that institution as an occasion to explicitly disparage same-gender relationships.  Here’s what he said at the Vatican on April 2nd, according to Religion News Service:

“When a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is reflected in them. . . .

“As ‘one flesh’, they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity. The image of God is the married couple — not just the man, not just the woman, but both.”

He appears to be using the same strategy in the new example of praising families about headed by heterosexual couples.  We don’t see him using accusations that children raised by same-gender couples experience “violence,” as Benedict often said.   Instead, Francis remains silent on the topic.

While silence is not ideal, it is a welcome relief, and a good first step.  But it is also not enough.  While Francis has made some exciting and encouraging statements, some of them have been ambiguous, allowing some to develop strange interpretations, and sometimes forcing people to guess at what he meant.

Pope Francis could clear this up by making a clear, strongly positive statement on LGBT issues which will clear up any doubt about where he stands on these matters.  Of course, we would most like him to speak clearly and forcefully against anti-LGBT laws that are being enacted around the globe.  Or he could support employment rights for LGBT people working in Catholic institutions.  A statement of support to LGBT youth who experience bullying and other forms of violence would also be helpful.  (What kind of statement would you want the pope to make?  Write your thoughts in a “Comment” to this post.)

If he needs any help formulating such statements, we are glad to help him. He can just give us a phone call–something that we know he likes to do!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Hundreds of Parents Turn Out to Protest Charlotte High School’s Anti-Gay Nun

April 11, 2014

Charlotte Catholic High School’s campus

The backlash against Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel’s lecture at Charlotte Catholic High School has been swift since last week she suggested homosexuality is caused by failed parenting and masturbation, and linked same-gender couples to child abuse.

Almost 1,000 parents attended the meeting, and most came to voice their concerns about the school’s decision to host Sr. Laurel, as well as the school’s failure to notify parents in advance that a sensitive topic was to be addressed. Before the meeting began, alumni and students passed out wristbands that said “We are all God’s children.” These individuals were removed from school property.

The meeting lasted an hour longer than scheduled, and it included administrators, the chaplain, and the diocesan director of education. Though closed off to non-parents and all media except the diocesan newspaper, all accounts reveal a highly charged evening notes the Charlotte Observer.

The Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper, reported parent reactions:

“The first parent to speak said her student came home after the March 21 assembly feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

” ‘Where was the trust? Where was the communication?…It is trust. It is respect. It is confidence. I have lost confidence. I do not trust your judgment and I do not respect (Father Kauth).’ Her comments drew loud applause from many others.” …

“One parent told Father Kauth, “You have divided parents, you have divided students, and we’ve lost respect for you.”

“A parent who said she was representing homosexual and bisexual students at Charlotte Catholic said Sister Jane ‘pounded home the message’ that if these students are questioning their sexual identity, they had better stay in the closet. She also said she felt the presentation created nothing but an unsafe environment for these students at the school.”

Diocese of Charlotte spokesperson David Hains concurred that most parents were upset with Sr. Laurel’s lecture, both her anti-gay content and the failure of the school to notify parents beforehand. He said the chaplain, Fr. Matthew Kauth, apologized saying “that was not the [speech] he expected her to give.” The chaplain also wrote a letter to the school community defending Sr. Laurel’s talk which he had arranged, available here. Of Fr. Kauth’s attempts to pacify parents, the Herald reports:

“Several parents questioned why Father Kauth did not stop the presentation once it went awry.

” ‘I wasn’t sure where (Sister Jane) was going,’ he responded. ‘I assumed her goodwill. She didn’t say anything that was contradicting to our faith.’ “

“Another parent told Father Kauth, ‘You don’t know best for our children. What are you planning on doing for the healing? We want our children to remain Catholic, but we are being pushed away by the climate of what is going on here.’ “

It seems that parents identified crucial points which Fr. Kauth, the chaplain, does not. Foremost, there are pressing pastoral implications. Simply allowing Sr. Laurel to continue speaking because, in his estimation, she was not contradicting Catholic doctrine, is an inadequate response when tremendous pastoral harm is being done. The enormous outcry from parents and the anger expressed by students are clear indications of such harm, not to mention the silent sufferings of LGBT students which do not make headlines. Second, parents understand that vicious anti-gay attacks during a mandatory assembly are perhaps the most effective of what Pope Francis has called “vaccines against faith” and drive students out of the Church.

The public outcry against this incident has caused Sr. Laurel to cancel all upcoming speaking engagements. She is also on sabbatical from her teaching position at Aquinas College, though the school’s president, Sr. Mary Sarah Galbraith, defended the Dominican nun’s lecture. You can read about Sr. Galbraith’s defense in a Tenneseean article.

Catholic students deserve better than anti-gay lectures using pseudo-social science. Let us pray that Charlotte Catholic High School will cause all Catholic educators to think about more pro-active and positive initiatives for LGBT students and other marginalized communities.

You can read Bondings coverage of the original incident by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Mother Jones: Nun Reportedly Tells Catholic School Kids That Masturbation Makes Guys Gay”


Madison Bishop Interprets Pope Francis’ Welcome

April 10, 2014

In the media storm last month surrounding the one year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, one reflection seems to have not received much media attention outside its original source.

Bishop Robert Morlino

Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, gave a wide-ranging interview to The Wisconsin State-Journal newspaper in which he praised the new pontiff, but at the same time interpreted his statements in the most unusual light that I have yet seen.  In news story summarizing the interview, the State-Journal noted:

“Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino, a staunch traditionalist with a national reputation for vigorously opposing abortion and same-sex unions, said he and Pope Francis are in sync and that the new pontiff has made him a stronger culture warrior. . . .

“. . . Morlino cautioned that reporters and people with agendas have ‘outrageously misinterpreted’ some of the pontiff’s comments, and he said Pope Francis actually is causing him to speak out even more forcefully on the church’s opposition to abortion, artificial contraception, stem cell research and homosexual acts.”

While I can appreciate that the media have often misunderstood the pontiff’s statements, I think it is probably also a grave misunderstanding to think that Pope Francis’ statements are calling for bishops to speak out more forcefully on culture war topics.   In the full text of the interview that the newspaper conducted, Morlino explained how the pope has made him a stronger culture warrrior:

“. . . in order to meet Christ, we have to stand up for the whole Christ. Standing up for the whole Christ — How do you do that? What are the aspects of Christ and of his work that need work in that vicinity or this region? That’s the judgment the bishop has to make. So I have to see kind of which aspects of the truth of Christ need work here, and when I see that, I kind of end up right back where I was. I have to speak up forcibly about these issues. But I have never failed to teach also about God’s mercy. Never. It’s one of my major themes. It always has been. But God’s mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and we have to think that through and work that out. It is unfortunate that some people, especially in your profession, have taken the occasion to widely misinterpret Francis, particularly with that statement, ‘Who am I to judge?’ I have had to explain away what the mass media have said about that far more times than I’d like to count.”

While some may have given Pope Francis’ statement an overly-broad interpretation of “Who am I to judge?”, I do not think that many Catholics, or non-Catholics for that matter, have taken it to mean what the bishop surmises they do.  Morlino explains:

‘When Francis was telling us about that, he was talking about a particular bishop whom he had just given a job in the Vatican, and it was found out that in South America where this bishop had been, he had been charged with certain misconduct. So the question came to Francis, ‘How could you bring him in?’ And Francis said, ‘The man has admitted he did wrong, he is sorry, and he has changed his life through the grace of Jesus Christ. Who am I to judge him now?’ That is hardly a statement that somehow justifies homosexual behavior.”

I have spoken to hundreds of Catholics since the “Who am I to judge?” statement was made.  I haven’t met one who thought the pope was condoning sexual activity between persons of the same gender.

Morlino also explained that he think’s the pope’s cultural background is one of the reasons that he has been more open to culture war topics than his predecessors:

“. . . it is my understanding that Argentina is a rather unique country in South America for a variety of reasons. They have a depth of culture and education beyond what a lot of other countries might have, and they have a very strong passion for a national spirit. They’re a nationalistic people. And I think the main thing I understand about Argentina that impinges on this is that there are not groups of Catholics whose purpose it is to dissent from the teaching of the church. There are a lot of people — Catholics and others — who are in desperate need. Pope Francis has an eye for them and he has a heart for them, and that was the bread and butter of his pastoral ministry in Argentina. So he wasn’t dealing so much, as I understand it, with doctrinal dissent, and of course that would make a big difference for how one does things in the United States versus how one would do things in Argentina. I think his approach is very much true to himself and true to his background and I couldn’t expect anything else.”

In the same interview, Morlino was asked about his decision to ban the use of the hymn “All Are Welcome” in Catholic churches in his diocese, and how that fit in with Francis’ constant admonition to keep the doors of the church open.  He responded:

“This is something that is particularly difficult, because it’s clear Christ wanted the salvation of all people. So who is welcome? Those are welcome who want the truth of Christ, or who want to want it. We have groups in the church who don’t want it. Why would they even come? So for me to say that people who don’t want to want the truth of Christ are welcome, is to disrespect them. They don’t want that, so why would they. . . .

“This is something that is particularly difficult, because it’s clear Christ wanted the salvation of all people. So who is welcome? Those are welcome who want the truth of Christ, or who want to want it. We have groups in the church who don’t want it. Why would they even come? So for me to say that people who don’t want to want the truth of Christ are welcome, is to disrespect them. They don’t want that, so why would they.

” ‘All are welcome’ can become a synonym for diversity, meaning let’s have same-sex unions, let’s have a contraceptive culture, let’s have abortions. ‘It’s a big tent’ is another code word for lots of things. ‘Big tent’ usually means, in fact, weakening conviction, and we can’t do that. So there is a battle going on in the United States that I don’t believe is going on in Argentina.”

From the quotes above, Bishop Morlino seems to operate out of a very defensive position, as if constantly under attack.  If he would dialogue with Catholics in his diocese about issues of concern to them, I think he would learn that their “dissent” is really assent to the teachings of the Gospel and the principles of Catholic values.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Under Pope Francis, Italian Gay Catholics See Signs of Hope — and Resistance

April 9, 2014

Whether a ‘Francis effect’ exists and just what it might be are questions which have dominated media coverage of Pope Francis’ first year. Now, the Washington Post profiles gay Italian Catholics who very much believe  ‘l’effetto Francesco’ or ‘Francis effect’ is positively influencing not just the Church, but their nation as well. The article begins by setting the Italian context:

Giulia Masieri is given Communion during the Mass held by Don Andrea Bigalli in the Church of Sant’Andrea in Florence, Italy. The parish welcomes gay Catholics.

“But for the pope, perhaps no one issue illustrates his divergence from tradition more than early signs of rapprochement between the church and gay Catholics.

“Francis’s shift so far has been one of style over substance; nothing in the church’s teachings on homosexuality has changed, and conservative clerics remain deeply skeptical of any radical move toward broad acceptance. But few places offer a better snapshot of the church’s evolving relationship with its gay flock than here in Italy, the host of Vatican City and where Roman Catholicism wields outsize influence.”

Italy, long influenced by the Catholic Church, is a holdout among European nations on LGBT rights. The nation’s bishops have helped stop even civil union-type legislation and, of the so-called ‘social issues,’ the Post writes that “homosexuality remains the last taboo.” LGBT advocates do not expect legal recognition of same-gender partners any time soon, even as Italian politicians begin to more publicly endorse gay equality. And yet, the Post notes:

“…the influence on the ground of Francis’s words and deeds — including a recent suggestion that the church may look more closely at the issue of civil unions — has begun to create what gay Catholics here describe as a burgeoning spirit of acceptance in pockets of the church’s grass roots.

“In Florence, a local parish council this month permitted a group of gay Catholics to hold their first public prayer session inside a Roman Catholic church. In Rome, a parish run by Jesuit priests announced a special service scheduled for April that, also for the first time in recent memory, is openly reaching out to gay as well as divorced Catholics. A leaflet for the service depicts Francis on the cover and reads: ‘The Church wants to be home. For everybody.’

“Prompted by a new Vatican questionnaire seeking views on family issues including same-sex couples, a representative of the Diocese of Padua held a landmark meeting in December with a gay Catholic group. Luigi Pescina, a spokesman for the group, said members were told that local church officials would now aim to ‘strip ourselves of prejudice and fear’ and ‘open up a relationship of exchange and enrichment’ with local gay Catholics.”

Elsewhere, Catholic priests and politicians who are already LGBT-affirming are pushing the boundaries and citing Pope Francis when doing so. Kairos, an existing gay Catholic group who received a personal response from Pope Francis last fall, may now hold public liturgies and be affiliated with the parish which had been hosting it. The group’s coordinator Innocenzo Pontillo and others said of these steps:

” ‘It may seem small, but for us, this is important…It is like feeling the light on your face. These are things which I feel would have been impossible before Pope Francis.’

“New members of the group, like Anna Maria — a 35-year-old lesbian who was too afraid of being ‘outed’ to give her last name — have come to consider the pope’s comments on homosexuality last July as a personal turning point.

“She said her devoutly Catholic mother called her after hearing the pope’s declaration. The two of them had grown distant since Anna Maria had told her mother years earlier that she was a lesbian. ‘But when she called me, she said, “If the pope is not judging you, then who am I to judge you either?” ‘ “

Yet, LGBT advocates are warning of claiming too much, too soon, as positive as Pope Francis’ first year has been. They point to continued examples of priests condemning gay and lesbian people.  And sustained cultural change will be needed if Pope Francis’ welcoming tone is to have a lasting impact.

There are also those in the Catholic hierarchy working against LGBT inclusion, including Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of Italy’s conference of bishops. In a speech, Bagnasco urged parents to oppose an anti-bullying campaign launched by the Italian government to stop violence against and suicides by gay people.

The cardinal used harsh language, saying schools were becoming “indoctrination and re-education camps” in a “totalitarian dictatorship” and attacked what he termed “gender ideology.” According to The New Civil Rights Movement, outcry from Catholic bishops has now caused the government to postpone rolling out the anti-bullying program.

Italy’s situation is a reminder for the universal Church that while Pope Francis is opening doors to LGBT people, lasting change will only come as a result of cultural transformation and we have much to do. Still, the ‘Francis effect’ seems helpful along this path to a more just Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Prominent Gay Musician Fired from Catholic Parish

April 8, 2014

Mike McMahon

A gay church worker’s firing from 2013 has just recently become public. Mike McMahon, a prominent music minister, was fired from his position in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia for marrying his husband.

McMahon worked for nearly four decades in music ministry, including service as president of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians and thirty years as music director for various parishes.

His latest position, from 2005-2013, was at St. Agnes Church in Arlington, whose pastor, Fr. Lee Roos, fired McMahon last summer after his marriage became known. The Washington Post reports further:

“McMahon said his meeting with Roos was less than half an hour. Church employees had verified that McMahon had married his partner in February [2013], and he could either resign or be fired, McMahon said Roos told him. He opted to be fired and was told the dismissal from the part-time position was effective immediately, he recalled recently.

” ‘He called HR and asked them to walk him through what he had to do. Then we walked over to the church where my stuff was. We walked to the parking lot, he gave me a hug and that was it,’ McMahon said of the exchange with Roos.”

Shortly after he was fired, McMahon also left his position at the National Association of Pastoral Musicians for undisclosed reasons. Michael Donohue, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Arlington, defended the firing because the marriage could “cause scandal in the church and confusion among the laity.” Of all this, the Post writes:

“McMahon is still figuring out the place of a Catholic musician who can’t work at a Catholic church. He feels just as Catholic, he said, and still attends a longtime downtown service with a group of gay and lesbian Catholics. And being out has, in his seventh decade, transformed his concept of his job. “

‘This has been a really freeing experience. One blessing is I no longer, I don’t think that way. I am who I am. And I can’t serve in ministry without being who I am — that I have to be careful who I say what to. Here it’s just normal. The church doesn’t revolve around’ the issue, he said [of a Protestant church in Washington, DC where he serves as music director currently].

“On the other hand, ‘serving in the ministry of the [Catholic] Church has been my identity my whole life. This placed me outside of that. I now think of myself as not able to serve in church ministry. I know I’m Catholic, and I know I belong, but I can’t do part of what makes me me.’ “

Michelle Boorstein of the Post explores the devastating trend of LGBT and ally church workers being fired from schools and parishes in the article, which you can read in full by clicking here. She mentions recent firings, as well as the new trend of explicitly anti-gay morality clauses in teacher contracts now used by Cincinnati and Hawaii Catholic schools. You can read about more than two dozen firings in recent years by clicking the ‘Employment Issues‘ section of this blog.

As for McMahon’s firing, he speaks eloquently to an overlooked reality when it comes to these firings. For many LGBT church workers, their identity is just as closely tied to being Catholic as to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their employment is not just a job, but a ministry offered in service to the Church and to the world. Michael O’Loughlin tackled this false notion that LGBT and Catholic identities are exclusive, or even set against each other, in The Advocate recently. Responding to Bill Donohue’s antics around the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, O’Loughlin writes:

“It’s not one or the other; this isn’t a zero-sum game. LGBT people should celebrate being their authentic selves. So should straight people. Draw the circle wide, as the hymn I learned in divinity school says.

“Here’s the thing about Donohue. He riles up people for money. He doesn’t believe in the bigotry he inspires. In fact, just last month he admitted that he believes LGBT people should be legally protected against discrimination in the workplace.

“But something Donohue might not understand is that to be a person of faith is not at odds with being an openly LGBT person. As a fellow Catholic, he surely knows as many holy and healthy gay priests as I do. So to claim that gay people who ask to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade are attacking Catholicism, as he does, is nonsense.”

The firing of LGBT church workers and those who support their equal rights under the law is the true scandal, not the loving commitment of same-gender partners. In an emerging world where LGBT justice is increasingly the standard, church institutions are faced with the choice of losing talented ministers or accepting people, as our Catholic faith instructs us. Let us hope parishes and schools will make the right choice, but in the meantime, help prevent future firings by advocating for non-discrimination policies.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Couple’s Child Baptized with Argentine Archbishop’s Blessing

April 7, 2014

The child of a lesbian couple in Argentina was baptized with the open support of their local archbishop, perhaps owing to Pope Francis’ more pastoral tone on LGBT issues.

Father Carlos Varras baptizes Umma Azul, as parents Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz look on.

Marriage equality was made law in 2010 in Argentina, but the April 5th baptism of Umma Azul is believed to be a first for a child with same-gender parents. Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz, the mothers, were raised Catholic and reached out to the archbishop of Cordoba about the baptism. Gay Star News reports:

” ‘We had a hearing with Archbishop [Carlos] Ñáñez and he told us there was no problem with our daughter being baptized in the Cathedral.’

“Archbishop Ñáñez reportedly gave ‘special instructions’ regarding the selection of godparents to Father Carlos Varras, who will be presiding over the baptism.”

Villarroeal said that though the couple does not attend church currently, they wanted their daughter baptized so she could decide for herself about whether to be Catholic. They also asked Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be Umma’s godmother, who agreed though did not attend the baptism.

Archbishop Ñáñez’s welcome of the couple and their daughter has been attributed to Pope Francis’ leadership by some. While still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, the pope had once sternly mandated that priests baptize children from non-traditional family structures after hearing that priests were turning away single mothers requesting the sacrament. A rough translation of La Stampa reports:

“When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the current pontiff has struggled to not exclude any child from the first sacrament, without taking into account the situation of the parents. This request is the result of a profound theological reflection, the priest Javier Klajner, head of youth ministry at the time and a close associate of Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, told Vatican Insider.

” ‘If a person comes to ask for baptism, is there no prompting of the Spirit? That ‘s what we call actual grace in theology to have moved the heart. As the Ethiopian, in the Acts of the Apostles, when he walked, and said, “Here is water. Why not baptize me?” ‘ …

” ‘If a parent asks for his son’s baptism, as we do? Do not give it to him? Francis says that we are ministers, not bureaucratic administrators in the sense of the term. In my parish, we can baptize any day, in any setting. It would be crazy not to. Then no one can come to criticize and say that people are not being baptized, because this is a contradiction,’ he said.”

Since being elected, Pope Francis has continued insisting that pastoral concerns are of the highest order. There is no way to know what impact Pope Francis has had exactly, but this baptism is a clear example that parish priests can and should minister to families led by same-gender parents, as they would to anyone else.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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