Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance Is Highlight of the Closing Day

March 18, 2012

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, ended on St. Patrick’s Day, with plenary talks by Luke Timothy Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who each received richly-deserved standing ovations from the assembled participants.

The largest ovation, however, was reserved for the appearance of Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had recently been denied communion at her mother’s funeral.

Ms. Johnson thanked the participants for the outpouring of support that she received from them and from Catholics all over the country.
She told how throughout the ordeal she felt the love of her mother leading and guiding her.  She told how faith in knowing of God’s love for her and her family kept her strong when the going got rough in recent weeks–including times when she received hate-filled and threatening messages from detractors who were purportedly “defending” the church. Bondings 2.0will provide excerpts from the text of her talk and photos of the event when they become available to us.

After her remarks, Ms. Johnson was joined on the Symposium stage by her partner, and both received a blessing from the assembled participants.  The text of the blessing follows:

“For you, Barbara, your partner, and your family, we, the People of God, the Church, raise our hands in blessing.

“We believe our Life-Giver and Love-Maker God is present; may every breath we take, flow into our world full of peace, hope, compassion and courage. Amen.

“We believe that Jesus’ love can heal all our hearts and all our losses. May we be open to the gifts of new life that the Resurrected Christ wants to share with us.  Amen.

“We believe all are welcomed and invited in this space and around this table of sharing; may we all become the Church inclusive, where the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face. Amen.

“Go now, in the name of Jesus, Our Christ, who said ‘follow me’ without saying where he was going, just promising transformation and relationship with the Triune God along the way. Amen.

The Washington Post today carries a front-page story, “Denying Communion: A priest and a lesbian set off a Catholic culture clash.”  The article focuses more on Fr. Guarnizo, the priest who denied Ms. Johnson communion, than it does on Ms. Johnson herself.  Most interesting is a quote from Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, a scholar at the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University:

“If I was Cardinal [Donald W.] Wuerl, I’d buy him a one-way ticket to Moscow. . . .These days, arch-conservative priests feel much more comfortable attacking their bishops than do liberals because they feel they’ll get support from conservative Catholic blogs and maybe some in the Vatican.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Barbara Johnson to Address New Ways Ministry Symposium!

March 10, 2012

Barbara Johnson

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, will have the distinct honor of a visit from Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman denied communion at her mother’s funeral, whose story made national headlines.

Ms. Johnson will visit the Symposium with her partner on Saturday, March 17, 2012, to address the assembled meeting participants about her recent experiences.  Immediately following her remarks, the participants will confer a blessing upon Ms. Johnson, her partner, and their entire family.

“Barbara Johnson’s faith witness has been strong throughout this whole ugly incident,” said Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director. “We are honored and humbled that she will be with us for the Symposium, and we are sure that all will benefit greatly from her presence.”

The Seventh National Symposium takes place March 15-17, 2012, at the Renaissance Baltimore Innerharbor Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland.  Other major speakers are: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia; Richard Rodriguez, Pulitzer-nominated writer and commentator; Catholic theologians Patricia Beattie Jung and Luke Timothy Johnson.  For more information and to register, please click here.

You can refresh yourself on the details of Ms. Johnson’s story by reading Bondings 2.0‘s three reports about the event; you can access those posts, in chronological order, here, here, and here.  Ms. Johnson’s experience continues to make headlines.  Just this week, Allen Rose, president of Dignity/Washington, published an essay in DC’s Metro Weekly, a gay news magazine, which touched on this case to call on the Archdiocese of Washington to provide better pastoral care for LGBT people:

Allen Rose

“I believe that all of the national and international attention currently focused on the correct pastoral approach to LGBT Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington might create a grace-filled, teachable moment for this area’s LGBT Catholics, their bishops and priests.”

In calling for dialogue between LGBT Catholics and the archdiocesan administration, Rose suggests a variety of important and urgent topics that could be readily discussed:

“The following could be discussed: developing strategies to prevent bullying and anti-gay violence in Catholic schools, exploring ways to strengthen and expand the HIV/AIDS ministry, and forming a ministry throughout the archdiocese to support families with LGBT members.

“These and other pastoral questions demonstrate the systemic nature of the solutions that are required regarding pastoral care for LGBT Catholics. This would not be a forum to discus politics.”

New Ways Ministry has long-supported the idea of dialogue between church officials and LGBT Catholics, and we think that Rose’s proposal at this crucial time can turn a painful event into a turning point for good.  In addition to LGBT Catholics, we think this dialogue should also include parents of LGBT people and pastoral professionals involved in this ministry.  The time for such a dialogue is way overdue, and the story of Ms. Johnson’s painful experience has illustrated to the world the harmful results that delaying such a dialogue is causing.  We repeat what we and so many others have said about Ms. Johnson’s case: “Never again.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sex, Marriage, and the Church, Part 1

January 14, 2012

The headline on the front cover of Commonweal magazine’s current issue reads “Sex, Marriage, and the Church.”  The tremendous decline in marriages (both civil and sacramental) in our society, as well as the obvious fact that most Catholics do not accept the hierarchy’s teachings about sex and marriage, offer the occasion for such an examination.

The editors invited nine scholars and writers to respond to observations posed by the church historian Eamon Duffy (in Unfinished Journey: The Church 40 Years after Vatican II, Essays for John Wilkins), from which the following is a  germane excerpt:

” It is not merely Catholic marriages, for example, which are in decline, but, it would seem, the institution of marriage itself. The moral pattern imposed by the church (slowly and with enormous difficulty) on European sexual behavior and family structure from the early Middle Ages onwards seems now to be collapsing. Later than most of the rest of the churches of the West, the Catholic Church is increasingly confronted with the need to evolve a modus vivendi with these apparently inexorable social trends, which can be lived by ordinary people with integrity. Marriage is above everything else a social institution, and if the church is not to decline into being a sect for the saintly, ordinary Catholic couples cannot realistically be expected to live lives untouched by the social and sexual expectations and mores of the culture as a whole. The tragically large and growing number of Catholics in irregular unions is both an indicator of the way in which the values of society shape the lives and perceptions of Christians and also, in pastoral terms, a ticking time bomb, which by one means or another is going to have to be defused if it is not to decimate the Catholic community and, more importantly, deprive thousands of people of the sacramental support and light they need.”

In balanced journalistic fashion, the responders cover a wide range of approaches and positions on this matter.  I will try to excerpt and comment on some of the more salient points, but, in this case more than in most others, I encourage the interested reader to read the entire discussion for one’s self.  In this first posting, I will summarize and comment on the responses with which I tend to agree; in a second posting on another day, I will do the same for the points with which I disagree.

To my thinking, the most reasonable response comes from Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor of theology at Emory University.   Johnson (who, incidentally, will be a plenary speaker at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Seventh National Symposium) takes the approach that to solve the marriage crisis, it is imperative that church leaders speak with the people who are affected (positively and negatively) by the current teaching.  He describes the current crisis of marriage and sexuality as

“. . .a case where attending to the actual experience of those participating in such ‘irregular unions,’ available through the stories they are eager to share, can help the church perceive in such stories the work of God or its denial, as a means of guiding its own faithful response.”

In listening to the faithful, Johnson posits that the following situation may occur:

“The church might . . . be called to examine how some aspects of the ‘institution of marriage’ as presently structured do not so much nurture the people as reinforce custom, and to respond creatively to the work of God as displayed in the lives of those touched by grace. In this case, change is the expression of obedient faith by the church.”

Johnson notes that there is very imperative reason for attempting this dialogue, which has to do with issues that are greater than sexuality and marriage:

“The one thing the church cannot afford to do is to refuse to pay attention to what is actually happening in people’s lives. What is at stake, after all, is not the preservation of Catholic (or European) institutions, or the survival of the community, or even the fullest possible participation in the sacraments. What is at stake is obedience to the living God, without which the church does not have much reason to exist.”

Leslie Woodcock Tentler follows a line similar to Johnson.  Taking a pragmatic assessment of her local parish, she observes:

“The relatively full pews contain some obviously gay couples, as well as couples whom I know to be in second marriages. The typical family appears to have only two children. As for the many young singles in attendance, I seriously doubt that all are living lives of perfect chastity. . . . [M]ost of us have apparently decided that the essence of the Christian message has to do with something other than sex.”

Although Tentler doesn’t frame it as a catechetical problem, she acknowledges that the current crisis is due in part to the fact that preachers and teachers are unwilling to promote the official teaching on sex and marriage–sometimes because they disagree with it and also because:

“The gulf between what the church teaches and how most Catholics actually live dictates silence on sex as a pastorally prudent strategy. At a time in history when Catholics are in desperate need of guidance on sex and marriage, the teaching church has nothing to offer beyond the occasional iteration of ill-understood prohibitions.”

Tina Beattie, who teaches theology at Roehampton University, London, UK, illuminates a painfully poignant contradiction in  the hierarchy’s approach to humanity when it comes to marriage:

“The church acknowledges that sin and failure are woven into the human condition, yet a ruthless idealism prevails when marriages break down. The denial of the sacraments to the divorced and remarried means that many Catholics are excluded from their Eucharistic communities just when they are most vulnerable. This also affects children, who risk being alienated from the church indirectly through the exclusion of their parents. “

Beattie offers an interesting alternative that is worth pondering:

“Maybe we need to rediscover a model of extended family life, one in which divorce, rather than death, weaves people into several families in the course of a lifetime. After all, throughout Christian history early death has meant that most people have been serially monogamous, and the longevity of marriages today presents a new challenge. Step-parents and half-siblings are by no means a new historical phenomenon.”

On the topic of lesbian/gay relationships, Beattie provides a good, succinct summary of  the contemporary theological approach to this issue:

“But what about those in same-sex relationships? I think the church has fetishized genitality at the expense of a deeper and richer understanding of the possibilities of sexual love. Church teaching now acknowledges that the unitive dimension of sexuality is valid even when a marriage is infertile, but this defeats any appeal to natural law to defend the church’s opposition to gay relationships. The criterion of goodness in any sexual relationship is surely not reducible to every genital act (which is a major flaw in Humanae vitae). Rather, we need to ask how these acts are expressive of wider relationships of fidelity, commitment, and respect, which remain open to the “child” in the form of the vulnerable outsider.”

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Patricia Hampl, author, recognizes that there is a larger, more important context to the discussion of marriage and sexuality than first meets the eye.  The larger context is how the church deal with new realities and with people who seem “foreign” to them:

“The challenge we face now is not simply whether the church can change to fit the historic moment where same-sex marriage is already the law of the land in certain states. We need to decide if we are committed to the apostolic mission of inclusion, the rugged path Paul walked (and did he walk!) in cultures alien to his earliest assumptions and training. He kept walking, kept connecting house church to house church. He forged our tradition by this very insistence on sacramental inclusion.”

Commonweal’s editor, Paul Baumann, closes this discussion with a reflection on his mother’s travails with pregnancy, health, and the hierarchy’s condemnation of artificial contraception.   At the end of this deeply personal reflection, Baumann offers a hope for the future, which is an appropriate note on which to conclude:

“Catholicism has altered seemingly irreformable teachings on more than a few occasions over the centuries (baptizing the uncircumcised, the perfidy of the Jews, slavery, usury, separation of church and state) yet somehow found a way forward with its identity, focus, and integrity intact; and I hope now that it will muster the will to find its way out of this particular dead end.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Deadline Approaches for Discounted Symposium Registration

December 21, 2011

December 31, 2011, is the last day to register for New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium to receive a discount on registration fees.

Don’t miss this opportunity to sign up with a more than 15% savings for From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, which will bring together hundreds of Catholics who are eager to move forward the discussion of LGBT issues in their church.

And Symposium registrations make EXCELLENT last-minute Christmas gifts!  Surprise a friend or family member and bring them along with you to this event which has transformed hearts, minds, and communities!

The Symposium features internationally-known keynote speakers:  Luke Timothy Johnson, Patricia Beattie Jung, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Richard Rodriguez, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.   Complementing this line-up are focus sessions which cover some of the most important topics in Catholic LGBT conversations.

For more information on the Symposium, and to register today, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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