Theologian Challenges Pax Christi to Embrace LGBT Equality and Justice

June 20, 2013

This past weekend, my New Ways Ministry colleague Bob Shine and I attended the national conference of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic organization which promotes peace, justice, and non-violence.  We had an exhibit booth there for New Ways Ministry, distributing our materials about LGBT ministry and equality.

Father Bryan Massingale

Father Bryan Massingale

With Bishop Thomas Gumbleton as the opening keynoter and Father Bryan Massingale, a Marquette University theologian who specializes in social ethics, as the closing plenary speaker, the three days of meetings were book-ended by great inspiration.

For me, and for many of the participants, the highlight of the weekend came during Fr. Massingale’s talk in which he laid out a number of ways that Pax Christi USA can become more relevant to today’s Catholics, and more effective in church and society.  His final recommendation was that Pax Christi USA needed to start addressing LGBT equality and justice if they want to remain a credible and vibrant voice for peace and justice.  He stated:

“If Pax Christi USA is to remain relevant and on the frontier as a Catholic movement of peacemaking with justice, it must intentionally welcome people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.”

Massingale acknowledged that this might be a “neuralgic and sensitive” issue for some in the organization, but he offered two reasons why he recommended it.  The first was demographics:

“For the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue.”

He noted a survey of young people from 2009 in which the four top descriptors of religious institutions were:  “intolerant,” “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “homophobic.”   He added:

“For young people, the litmus test of the credibility of a religious institution is their stances on LGBT rights.”

The second reason, Massingale suggested, was the justice and human rights argument:

“Around the world, people are humiliated, tortured, raped, exiled, imprisoned, and executed for who they are and how they love.  The most notorious case is going on in Uganda with the so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ bill. . . In South Africa, women who identify as lesbian are subjected to a practice called  ‘corrective rape’ where they are gang raped by men in order to change them from their ‘sinful tendencies.’ “

Massingale added that “we don’t need to go overseas,” mentioning the series of murders classified as gay hate crimes in New York City during May 2013.  He noted mournfully:

“And these hate crimes, these brutal murders were met by a deafening, appalling silence from Catholic leaders.”

Massingale summed up this section of his talk with moral principles that are deep in Catholic theology:

“Whatever disagreements one may have with someone’s conduct, their fundamental human rights are inalienable and God-given.

“These human rights must be protected and defended without compromise or ambiguity.  This is not political correctness.  This is the Gospel.”

An audio recording of Fr. Massingale’s entire talk is available on the Pax Christi USA website.  A news story about the entire conference can be found on The National Catholic Reporter website.

My experience at the weekend conference tells me that Pax Christi members were well-disposed to receive Fr. Massingale’s challenge.  The part of his talk that dealt with LGBT issues was interrupted several times by loud, approving applause.   At New Ways Ministry’s exhibit table, we were busy all weekend talking with Pax Christi members who are extremely supportive of LGBT issues.  Indeed, we returned home practically empty-handed, having distributed almost all of our materials.  We were afraid we would run-out!

Pax Christi USA already has a precedent for taking on LGBT issues.  In 1998, the organization partnered with New Ways Ministry to produce a full-page signature advertisement in the New York Times, in response to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming.  Close to 2,000 Catholics, including nine bishops, signed the statement entitled, “A Catholic Pledged to End Violence Against Lesbian and Gay People.”

But, of course, Fr. Massingale’s message is one that not only needed to be delivered to Pax Christi, but to the entire church.

New Ways Ministry thanks PaxChristiUSA for hosting us at their conference and for providing a platform for Fr. Bryan Massingale’s passionate and prophetic talk.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Bishop Thomas Paprocki Present Two Different Catholic Views on Marriage Equality

June 4, 2013
Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Bishop Thomas Paprocki

An event last Friday that included Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, highlighted just how supportive Catholics are of marriage equality as the bishops play defense to support their position.

For over two hours at an event hosted by Robert Blair Kaiser and the Jesuit Alumni of Arizona, Sr. Gramick exchanged views with Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, in front of an audience.

The National Catholic Reporter reported on the event, where Bishop Paprocki attacked  the “gay activist lobby” in his opening remarks and denigrated the attention given to the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 as evidence of media bias. He posited that if marriage equality passes, then “everything should be OK” in regard to any sexual practice or activity.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Alternatively, Sr. Gramick spoke of the positive changes occurring around LGBT issues, including her personal conversion that has led to nearly four decades of ministry with gay and lesbian people. The article continues:

“Gramick reflected on changes in her own attitudes, attitudes of the public and attitudes of the church hierarchy. She said more and more church leaders are moving toward support of at least civil unions.

“Referring to Paprocki’s remark that morality cannot be based on polls, she said, ‘We may not legislate on the basis of polls, but they tell us what people are thinking.’

“She said polls show Catholics’ opinions have moved from opposition to same-sex marriage to approval in a short time because nearly everyone has a gay friend, family member or business associate.”

Indicative of these shifting views, the question period was solely aimed at Bishop Paprocki’s opposition to LGBT rights. During remarks by the bishop, a member of the audience, Anne Gray, even yelled out, “That’s insulting” and followed-up with a question:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

“In response to a question from Kaiser, Paprocki said the church would love to welcome gay people but is forced into a defensive position by ‘activists pushing an agenda.’ That set off Gray, who has a gay son, again.

“‘Here I am,’ she said. ‘The big scary gay agenda…My son is a perfect human being. There is nothing intrinsically disordered about him. I know because I am his mother.’…

” ‘You need to listen to mothers,’ she said.”

Another questioner offered her personal experience of supporting lesbian family members and Paprocki made the suggestion that she leave the church to do so:

“One of the youngest people in the room said she was a devout Catholic, but when her aunt and sister told her they were gay, she was put on the spot. She asked Paprocki if she could remain a good Catholic and still support her family members in their desires to form lifelong relationships.

” ‘It is a struggle to be a good Catholic while supporting gay marriage,’ the bishop said. ‘It strains your relationship with the church.’

“He said those who oppose the church on the issue should become Protestants. ‘They do a lot of good things too,’ he said.

This is the latest instance where Catholics supportive of LGBT equality are making their voices heard to the Church’s hierarchy, including Sr. Gramick who recently confronted the famously anti-gay Cardinal Turkson of Ghana. We applaud the many people whose efforts contributed to making American Catholics the leading religious group advocating for equal marriage rights!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Yet Another Commencement Controversy at a Catholic School

May 9, 2012

“Commencement time” is becoming “controversy time” when it comes to LGBT issues and Catholic schools.   Already this spring, we’ve witnessed three stories where LGBT issues have caused uproars in various Catholic educational institutions in the U.S. (for links to Bondings2.0posts about these previous stories, see the end of this posting).  This fourth one seems the most frustrating, and I explain the reasons why after reviewing the details of the case.

The news this week is that the bishop of Davenport, Iowa, is not allowing a scholarship to be presented to a gay student at a Catholic high school in Clinton, Iowa, because the award comes from a foundation which supports LGBT rights.

According to an Associated Press story printed on theWashington Post website:

Keaton Fuller

Bishop Martin Amos in Davenport said the Eychaner Foundation would not be allowed to present the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to Keaton Fuller during the May 20 ceremony at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, saying the group’s support for gay rights conflicts with church doctrine.

Fuller’s response was quoted in a QuadCities Times article about the decision:

 “ ‘I have never felt as invalidated and unaccepted as I have upon hearing the news that the scholarship that I have worked so hard for not just in the application process, but also in my deportment and actions over the years, would not be recognized in the way that it should at the graduation ceremony,’ Keaton said. ‘It is difficult to understand how after I have spent 13 years at this school and worked hard during all of them, I would be made to feel that my accomplishments are less than everybody else’s. This whole ordeal has been incredibly hurtful, and I am even sadder that this will be one of my last experiences to remember my high school years by.’

“Keaton wrote that this is ‘a teachable moment for Prince of Peace, to stand up against rejecting and invalidating the accomplishments of any student.’ ”

The diocese’s statement about the bishop’s decision cited a diocesan policy about speakers at Catholic institutions:

“We cannot allow any one or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution.”

As was the case in another recent graduation controversy, the bishop’s decision was not supported by local school officials, according to the Associated Press story:

“School Board President Edward O’Neill said he was disappointed by the bishop’s decision. He said Fuller was a talented student who was accepted by his peers after coming out years ago. He said Fuller had taken his boyfriend to prom over the weekend and other school dances without controversy.

“O’Neill said board members were briefed on the scholarship last month, and they were aware a foundation representative planned to present the scholarship. No one raised an objection until the bishop got involved, he said.

“ ‘We preach tolerance and acceptance but then we turn around and we don’t practice what we preach,’ he said. ‘If the bishop says we’re not going to do it, I can voice my objection to it, but there’s not a whole lot I can do.’ ”

The QuadCity Times article offers further disagreement from O’Neill:

“O’Neill said he was ‘disappointed and confused’ by the diocese’s decision, especially because the school already had given assurance that a representative of the foundation would be allowed to present the scholarship.

“ ‘If you say you’re going to do something, you do it,’ O’Neill said. ‘I guess I don’t understand what the big deal is about somebody from the foundation coming to present the award.’

“O’Neill said it is common practice at the school for representatives of organizations awarding scholarships to make the presentations to the winning students.

“ ‘How this became a contentious situation I don’t know,’ he said.”

Indeed, the same story says that school officials encouraged and supported Fuller to apply for the scholarship:

“He learned about the scholarship program and was encouraged to apply by Prince of Peace, he said in the release. The school also issued a signed statement that a committee member would be allowed to present the award to Keaton at the ceremony if he were selected for the scholarship, the release states.”

What’s particularly frustrating about this case is that the Eychaner Foundation and the diocese do have common ground in their anti-bullying work.   The Associated Press article states:

“Eychaner issued a statement saying he was shocked that the bishop believes the foundation’s work clashes with church teachings, noting it promotes tolerance and fights bullying.”

The diocese’s statement ends:

“While the diocese supports anti-bullying programs promoted by the Eychaner Foundation, the Foundation’s advocacy for same-sex marriage is contrary to Catholic teaching.”

The frustration comes because the bishop has turned an opportunity to promote the church’s teaching against intolerance into a half-hearted attempt to make a statement about the church’s teaching on sexual ethics.  “Half-hearted” because the scholarship will still be allowed to be presented at the graduation, just not by a representative from the Eychaner Foundation.

Any subtle message about sexual ethics that the diocese was trying to make has already been drowned out by the louder message that it is sending that discrimination is not an important value to the Catholic hierarchy.

The larger issue, though, is how Catholic institutions are going to relate to other institutions in the world.  If Catholics were to follow the logic of this bishop’s decision, they would only ever associate with individuals or groups with whom they have total and complete agreement.  That is a recipe for institutional disaster.   Catholics would do well to follow the example of Jesus who was not afraid to associate with people with whom he had disagreements.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous Bondings 2.0 stories about Catholic commencement controversies:

April 30, 2012: At Catholic Colleges’ Commencements: Tutu, Yes; Kennedy, No

April 29, 2012:  “Whodunit” Surrounds Decision to Disinvite Gay Alum from Commencement

April 1, 2012:  The Ups and Downs of LGBT Issues on Catholic College Campuses


Lessons Learned from Cancelling “The Laramie Project” at a Catholic High School

March 24, 2012

One has to wonder what kind of lessons are taught to students when parents’ complaints to New Jersey Catholic high school administrators caused the cancelling of a production of The Laramie Project, a play about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young Wyoming gay man.

According to a news story in The Trenton Times, the decision to cancel the show, originally scheduled for Notre Dame high school in Lawrence, N.J.,

“has proved to be just as controversial as the play’s edgy and dramatic portrayal of a Wyoming town gripped in the aftermath of a hate crime.

“On one side, school administrators say parents worried that the choice for the play was inappropriate for high schoolers, too loaded in its tale of the murder of a young gay man beaten and left tied to a fence to die.

“But cast members and students at the Catholic high school said they’ve been unfairly robbed of their ability to put on a thought-provoking and powerful play, one whose message of tolerance resonates powerfully in the wake of the Tyler Clementi cyberbullying verdict and other anti-harassment efforts.

“ ‘I wanted to do a show that had meaning and purpose to it and when I found out we were doing “The Laramie Project” I got really excited because this show teaches the values I’ve been taught my last 12 years of Catholic education,’ cast member and Notre Dame senior Tessa Holtenrichs said. ‘When I was told we couldn’t do it, I felt like it was really hypocritical.’ ”

Clearly, the overwhelming lessons of the school’s action are going to be that censorship is appropriate, that homosexuality is a forbidden topic, and that concerns about sexual activity are much more important that lessons about respect and tolerance.

What makes this decision even more difficult to understand is that that school administrators had previously deliberated over whether or not to stage the play, and had made a conscious decision that it would be beneficial to do so:

“School president Barry Breen and principal Mary Ivins said in a statement the choice for the spring play was originally seen as a ‘powerful and appropriate vehicle’ to address issues of respect and tolerance. But as calls questioning the play’s content rolled in, officials worried that the controversy would become distracting, and the decision was made Tuesday to cancel the show.

“ ‘The expression of these concerns opened our eyes to the realization that different eyes will see radically different messages than the ones we intended,’ they said.

“ ‘This has led the administration to conclude that we might inadvertently be placing our school at the center of an undesired and potentially damaging controversy by moving forward with the production.’ ”

The administration’s rationale teaches the wrong lesson that public pressure, not a principled decision, should be guide one’s thought.

Not all parents were against the staging of the play.  At least one thought the play–and its ensuing controversy–had the potential for an important lesson:

“ ‘I think the people had the assumption that the play was going to do something it never would have done, to encourage students to become homosexuals instead of not killing homosexuals,’ Diane Steinberg, a parent of a Notre Dame student and an alum, said during an interview.

“She said the school missed the chance to turn any controversy into a teachable moment.”

As one student’s comments illustrate, preparing for the play was already producing beneficial lessons for students:

“ ‘My director, Ms. (Diane) Wargo, said something pretty powerful,’  [Tessa] Holtenrichs said. ‘She said Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to have so many rules about who to love and how to love. I thought that was great.’ ”

What is even more surprising is that many Catholic high schools and colleges stage this play regularly.  In 2010, Xavier High School in Manhattan, produced this play for the second time in less than ten years, and withstood pressure to cancel it.  According to a New York Times article:

“Not only did Xavier’s president and headmaster approve the plan for ‘Laramie,’ they informed Mr. Ostrow [the drama teacher]  that he was not exactly breaking new ground. Xavier had performed ‘Laramie’ in the 2002-3 school year, standing by the production even amid some eye-rolling and grumbling among faculty members and parents and a smattering of picketing from fundamentalist Christians. “

What lessons did staging this production at Xavier teach students?  According to school administrators quoted in theNew York Times:

“ ;I’m thrilled we did it,; Jack Raslowsky, Xavier’s president, said in an interview this week. ‘It’s one of those plays that has the potential to be a springboard to discussion. If you do “The Mousetrap” or “Brigadoon,” you’re not going to be discussing issues of good and evil.’

“Such a discussion, said Mr. Raslowsky and Michael LiVigni, the headmaster, fits firmly in the Catholic theological tradition, with its emphases on social justice and human dignity.

“ ‘When I saw the play,’ Mr. LiVigni said, ‘what struck me most was the scene of Matthew’s funeral when you have picketers with the sign “God Hates You.” But why would God hate what he created? That’s what I want our boys to understand.’ ”

Now, that’s a lesson worth teaching and learning.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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