Spanish Nun: Same-Gender Relationships Are a ‘Sacrament’ of God’s Love

July 21, 2014

Spain’s Sister Teresa Forcades is a well-known activist for women’s rights, political autonomy in her home country and region, and economic justice. She has been labeled “Europe’s Most Radical Nun,” and she challenges the Church as often as she challenges unjust structures in society.

This Benedictine nun is also an advocate for LGBT people, offering the following insights in an interview earlier this year. Sr. Forcades goes beyond allowing for LGBT people to express themselves sexually and have relationships to celebrate them as profound and beautiful signs of God’s love in the world:

Sr. Teresa Forcades

“The religious analysis that understands sex as something that is intended for procreation is a utilitarian view of human love and is contrary to Christian spirituality. To surrender to the mystery of an interpersonal relationship is to surrender to growing towards being an image of God, towards incarnating what God represents on earth. Upon entering, you receive a gift, that this union could engender a child, but that’s perfectly compatible with you being able to be responsible and use contraception when you please…

“So I think that homosexual love is perfectly understandable to the church, because it has what is essential: it’s not having children, but an open intimacy to an interpersonal relationship that includes respect for the integrity of the other. Two people who love one another, desire one another, and respect one another are giving testimony: this is the sacrament, a visible sign — like baptism — that’s saying, ‘This creature is accepted in this community as any other.’ Trinitarian theology says that all sacraments are an embodiment of God’s love. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different but they are not complementary. Love is not necessity; it’s not when I need you because I’m missing something. It can’t be utilitarian love.”

A tip of the hat to Michael Bayly who writes on on Catholic LGBT issues at The Wild Reed for drawing attention to Sr. Forcades’ powerful words. She has long been a proponent of LGBT rights, and a recent profile in The Guardian notes of Sr. Teresa:

“Before she took her vows in 1997, Forcades tested the other nuns by giving a talk on a group of gay Catholics who celebrated their sexuality as a gift from God. She was humbled by the nuns’ humane reaction and, so, joined them.”

In March, Sr. Teresa visited Baltimore and lectured on a variety of justice-related issues. She views change in the Catholic Church as many do, a bottom-up effort, saying:

“When I talk about church, we talk about how the Gospel inspired us. There are many kinds of church, and I identify with the people at the bottom, at the base. Many people have a hope that the Catholic church might change because of the pope, but if you look at history, change comes from bottom up, not from top down.”

You can read more about that visit in the National Catholic Reporter or read a profile of Sr. Teresa in The Guardian by clicking here.

From her lips to the bishops’ ears! But, in the meantime, it is those same-gender couples living out this sacrament of God’s love who are not waiting for change in the Church, but creating it from the bottom up. Gratitude that Sr. Teresa is willing to speak that truth to power, as she so often does!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


March on Washington Can Teach Catholic Church About Equality

August 30, 2013

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Millions of Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on Wednesday, an historic event where Civil Rights leaders demanded equality before the law and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Behind the March’s success was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who brilliantly lead organizing efforts, and who, according to Jamie Manson, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers insights for the Catholic Church today.

The March was an unprecedented protest with over 250,000 people participating.  It influenced policymakers to pass civil rights legislation just months afterwards. Bayard Rustin’s pivotal role was nearly forgotten, partly because he was an openly gay man, but is being raised up now by LGBT advocacy groups and others during current commemorations.

Manson explains  that it was Rustin who introduced Rev. King to nonviolent resistance. Rustin had begun advocating for civil rights as early as the 1940s, developed the first Freedom Ride, and first thought up the March on Washington. Yet, as influential and respected as Rustin was within the Civil Rights movement’s leadership, being gay meant discrimination of a different kind:

“Fearing that the demonstrations [outside the 1960 Democratic National Convention planned by Rev. King and Rustin] would undermine his own power, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., an African-American congressman from Harlem, N.Y., insisted they cancel the protest. If they refused, Powell threatened to claim Rustin and King were having an affair.

“Of course, there was no affair, but King surrendered to Powell’s demands, and Rustin was forced to resign and remove himself from the movement he helped shape…

“A month before the [1963] march, news of Rustin’s sexuality resurfaced. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reported Rustin’s morals charge to segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond. Taking to the Senate floor, Thurmond declared Rustin a “Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual…”

Fortunately, Strom Thurmond’s antics were repelled by civil rights leaders who supported Rustin in that moment and, Manson points out, it is unlikely that a person’s sexual orientation would cause them censure among contemporary activists. However, Manson wonders about the situation in the Catholic Church and American religious institutions:

“Our churches are home to many LGBT people who make outstanding contributions to the life of the church as lay ministers, teachers, hospital workers, women religious and priests. Many are forced to be silent, however, because some in the church believe their sexual identities discredit or taint their work.

“Anyone who believes that prejudice in our church is passing away is either unaware of or in denial about the hundreds of exceptional LGBT Catholics who, every year, are fired from jobs, uninvited from speaking in churches, or denied participation in church ministry because of their honesty about their sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Rustin’s life reminds us that, not too long ago, most of our culture believed a person’s sexual identity could somehow taint or discredit the knowledge, talent and gifts he or she brings to a community. His story invites us to recognize and challenge the ways in which this toxic and often subconscious belief is still playing out in our churches, communities and families.”

Frequent readers of Bondings 2.0 know experiences of discrimination and exclusion for LGBT Catholics and their allies are all too common in parishes, schools, and social service agencies. Employees with years of job experience are fired for supporting equal rights, couples committed to each other for decades are denied Communion, and priests face expulsion for attempting to offer pastorally-sensitive approaches.

The harm done against these devoted church members is terrible, but just as troubling is the loss of their gifts within our communities and it leaves one thinking: What if the Church is expelling a contemporary Bayard Rustin because she or he is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender? With so much work to be done on behalf of a more just, equitable world, the Church cannot afford this.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Sr. Joan Chittister Hopes Pope Francis Can Dispel Catholic Weariness Through Listening

March 19, 2013
Sister Joan Chittister

Sister Joan Chittister

Pope Francis was officially inaugurated earlier this morning, concluding much of the ceremonial introductions and beginning his papacy in full. A week of speculation and observation leaves Catholics and the world-at-large with a growing understanding of who this pope is, from where he emerges as former head of the Argentine church, and where the Church might be heading. Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun writing in National Catholic Reporter, discusses weariness on the part of many Catholics and her desire for Pope Francis to sincerely listen.

Referencing a column by Pat Howard, a local journalist near her Erie, Pennsylvania, monastery, Sr. Joan identifies the problem afflicting Catholics:

“It is weariness that is palpable in so many groups now…

“Weariness comes from a soul whose hope has been disappointed one time too many. To be weary is not a condition of the body — that’s tiredness. No, weariness is a condition of the heart that has lost the energy to care anymore.”

After a papacy under Benedict XVI that denied modern developments in the hierarchy’s understandings and suppressed even posing questions, many are left weary, which in Sr. Joan’s eyes is worse than anger or indifference:

“People are weary of hearing more about the laws of the church than the love of the Jesus who says whatever a person’s struggles, ‘Remember, I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20).

“People are weary of seeing whole classes of people — women, gays and even other faith communities again — rejected, labeled, seen as ‘deficient,’ crossed off the list of the acceptable…

“It gets spiritually exhausting to go on waiting for a pastor again and instead getting a scolding, reactionary church whose idea of perfection is the century before the last one rather than the century after this one…

“All in all, they’re weary of being told, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ They’re weary of being treated as if they are bodies and souls without a brain.”

Weariness is so subversive, and thus worrisome for Sr. Joan, because it undercuts caring, and people will not react with anger for change or endure hardship in hope that the situation will improve.  Weariness just kills the weary one’s interest. However, in Sr. Joan’s eyes, Pope Francis provides an opportunity to give rest to the weary if he acts pastorally. Of his first appearance as pope,, she writes:

“And then came the real shock: He bowed to the people. Bowed. And asked them to pray a blessing down on him before he blessed them. Francis, I remembered, was the Christian who reached out to Muslims. Francis, the one who listened to every creature in the universe and dialogued with it.

“Indeed, if this Francis, too, is a listener, there is hope for reconciliation, hope for healing, hope for the development of the church.

“No doubt about it: We know who the people are who have been waiting for a pope and why they are weary. The question now is, Does he know how weary they are? And does he care? Really?”

The LGBT community, families, and advocates are certainly counted among Sr. Joan’s weary Catholics who suffer from a hierarchy intent on legalism and rejection. Many of us continue to practice the faith for reasons unique to each person, fluctuating perhaps between bouts of weariness and bursts of energy.

Pope Francis’ previous statements on LGBT rights are clear, his record on marriage equality less so–and neither are good. With the inaugural Mass concluded, and many ‘firsts’ completed, now Pope Francis must begin governing with, not over, the People of God. We can echo Sr. Joan’s words that “Maybe, just maybe, this time…” there will be change enough to dispel some weariness if this new papacy commences in a listening posture.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Sr. Jeannine Gramick Speaks of Hope at Stonehill College

March 6, 2013

Sr. Jeannine speaking at Stonehill College (Credit: Daniel Gardiner)

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with the Stonehill College community recently about her experiences in LGBT ministry and hopes for the future.  This event came at a critical juncture for colleges run by the  Holy Cross Fathers, whose campuses have seen signs of progress and regression in the last year around LGBT issues.

Over a hundred students and faculty filled the lecture hall, warmly receiving Sr. Jeannine for nearly two hours of dialogue. The event’s co-sponsors included PRIDE, the Moreau Honors Program, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Moore Center for Gender Equity, and faculty members from the Religious Studies Department. Reviews from those in attendance extolled not only the importance of discussing LGBT issues within Catholic higher education, but of doing so in the hope-filled way Sr. Jeannine demonstrated.

An article in the campus newspaper, The Summit, captured faculty reactions for those who participated in the evening, including that of Fr. George Piggford who teaches English:

“I think that Sister Jeannine Gramick’s witness and her ministry is incredibly powerful…I have a great deal of respect for her willingness to live according to her conscience, and to discern, not just on her own, but in conversation with other people, how she feels God is leading her to minister to other people.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Students also responded positively over social media. Daniel Gardiner wrote a blog post titled “I am the vine; you are the branches” based on his reflections from the evening with Sr. Jeannine. He lauded the event for exposing students to new perspectives, writing about Sr. Jeannine’s lecture:

“Her message was strong and her passion was palpable…

“The bulk of her presentation was centered on ‘signs of hope’ which demonstrate what she believes to be a changing attitude in the Catholic Church toward the LGBT community. She speaks of the church in terms of the masses of people rather than the men who make up the hierarchy and cites polling that indicates a growing sense of support among Catholic people for LGBT individuals and even same-sex marriage. This was her first sign of hope.

“Her second sign of hope came through the success of the ministry which she founded. Gramick insisted that New Ways Ministry is not advocating for a triumph of new ideas over old, but rather, the simple idea that God loves all his children just the way they are. While this ministry has faced significant scrutiny since its inception during the seventies, there has also been tremendous support for the mission of New Ways and for Sister Jeannine herself.

“Another sign of hope has been the changes Gramick has seen in the institutional structures of the church…After citing scripture, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches,’ Gramick explained that we are all rooted in God’s love, there are individuals who comprise the right branches, like Pope Benedict, and individuals who comprise the left, like Sister Jeannine, but it is in our common point of origin that we can move the conversation forward.”

Stonehill’s invitation to Sr. Jeannine came in the midst of Holy Cross-run campuses across the country engaging LGBTQ issues due to growing student advocacy. The University of Notre Dame recently released a pastoral plan to address sexual orientation and gender issues in the wake of students agitating for fifteen years, while the University of Portland witnesses renewed controversy of disparaging comments by their president recently. Stonehill College itself just recently listened to student input by beginning to implement sexual orientation into College non-discrimination policies. In the midst of all this, student Gardiner blogged:

“Our institution was founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross and our Catholic identity is something of which we are very cognizant. By bringing Sister Jeannine to our campus and welcoming her discussion among our students, faculty and staff, we are sending a very clear signal that not only are we an open minded community but a community which fosters rich discussion on the topics that may be marked as controversial but we deem as important and worthwhile. Bravo, Stonehill.”

New Ways Ministry echoes Daniel’s applause and continues to support LGBT students and their allies at Catholic universities and colleges. For a full listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc. For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved or seek support, contact me at youngadults@newwaysministry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Musical Nun Sings: ‘You Are Not Alone’

March 2, 2013

Bare-MusicalArtThe character of a nun, in an off-Broadway musical provocatively entitled Bare, is now singing a song which one writer thinks will become an anthem for LGBT youth facing bullying and harassment.

Despite the title, the show does not focus on nudity, but on the struggles of two gay high school students at a Catholic boarding school

In a Huffington Post piece, Mark Canavera draws attention to a song in the second act, “You’re Not Alone,” sung by the character Sister Joan:

” ‘You’re Not Alone,’ developed by lyricist Jon Hartmere and composer Lynne Shankel for the current off-Broadway revival of the musical Bare, will become a new anthem for LGBT youth. Bare churns in tempo with the lives of a group of sexually awakening teenagers who are struggling within the confines of a Catholic school. ‘You’re Not Alone’ comes late in the second act and represents the show’s emotional pinnacle, piercing through the turmoil. (Although no official recording of the song yet exists, a demo version is available to stream here.) Sister Joan, an empathetic nun, is consoling one of her gay students who is caught in the whirlwinds of the drama. She uses the clearest words imaginable:

“You’re created in His image. / You’re a perfect child of God. / And this part of you / It’s the heart of who you are. / It’s who you are / And you just need to know / You’re not alone.” ‘ “

Canavera describes how the song was developed, and the reason the composer and lyricist put it into the mouth of a teacher:

“That the song is sung by a teacher to her student illuminates the special role that teachers can play in supporting their students while opening new horizons. ‘I think that teachers have such an amazing opportunity-slash-responsibility to their students to open a kid’s eyes to what is possible beyond what they think is possible,’ says Shankel. Hartmere himself was a teacher who spoke frankly to his classrooms about his sexual orientation and the offense he felt at hearing insults tossed around. ‘One day on the yard,’ he describes, ‘I heard a kid call someone else gay, and one of the girls from my class said, “Don’t use that word because my teacher’s gay, and I like him.” ‘ “

Of course, more importantly is the fact that the character is not only a teacher, but a Catholic nun:

“In addition to being a teacher, Sister Joan is obviously a nun. Hartmere, who was raised Catholic and whose great aunt is a nun, believes that this character and her song should help to provide a counter-balance to conceptions of the Catholic Church as a monolithic, doctrinaire haven for sex offenders. ‘There’s another angle here,’ says Hartmere, ‘another way of looking at things. Nuns are an amazing group of people who have an amazing worldview that should be listened to more.’

“I couldn’t agree more. Listening to Sister Joan send her clarion message to the struggling student in a recent performance of Bare transported me directly to 1992, when I was a freshman at a Catholic high school in Charleston, South Carolina. I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, lonely, lost, confused, and yes, suicidal. My Sister Joan was Sister A.J. — short for Alice Joseph — of the Sisters of Mercy order. Sister A.J. was in her 50s when she taught me and passed away some years ago now; God rest her soul. Much like the teacher whose supportive note to a gay studentrecently went viral, Sister A.J. wrote the following note on one of my essays:

By the way, you were born homosexual, overweight, and with a loving heart. Don’t worry about your homosexuality. One day the pope will understand. PS…I love you.

” ‘You’re Not Alone‘ and such notes are crystal lasers of love, beaming direct and clear from the hearts of nuns to their LGBT students. May such love go viral.”

At New Ways Ministry, we’ve known for over 36 years how much nuns have been supporting LGBT people and ministry because they have been the backbone of our financial and spiritual support.  We are deeply grateful. We are glad that a song such as “You Are Not Alone” is helping to spread the message of nuns’ love–and God’s love–of LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Our 500th Post: Time to Pause for Some Levity

January 7, 2013

Bondings 2.0 has reached a milestone today:  this post is our 500th post!!!!!

To celebrate this little landmark, we thought we would provide a break from our usual serious material, and provide some humorous (though relevant) content.

Last week, on January 1st, The Washington Post‘s “Style” section printed it’s annual list of what is “Out” and what is “In,”  an annual inventory of what is hot and what is not in American culture.  Listed among the various fads, TV characters, celebrities, and  the latest political lingo was this one little item of Catholic interest:

Out:  Bishops

In:  Nuns

This note obviously refers to the many stories during 2012, when it was proven time and again that Catholic respect for nuns has been on the increase.  This respect is due in no small part to the fact that many nuns view LGBT issues primarily as justice issues.   In 2012, nuns’ support of LGBT issues contributed to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) run-in with the Vatican.  Back in April and May of 2012, when the LCWR story was front-page news, the following cartoon ran in many papers and was circulated widely on Facebook and the internet:

Nuns

We hope these items lightened your day a bit!

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LCWR President Offers “Fresh Air” on Vatican Challenge to Nuns

July 22, 2012

 

 

The Vatican’s critique of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the association of the heads of Catholic nuns’ communities in the United States, focused on the organization’s approach to three issues:  openness to women’s ordination, whether salvation exists outside the Church, and support for LGBT issues generally (with support for New Ways Ministry noted particularly).

Sister Pat Farrell, OSF

The LCWR’s annual assembly will be coming up in the second week of August.  In advance of that meeting and to discuss the Vatican’s challenge, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, the current President of LCWR, sat down this week for interview on WHYY’s popular syndicated radio talk show, Fresh Air. A report on the interview, along with excerpted passages, is available on the website of Vermont Public Radio.  The report notes:

“. . .the nuns said the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the group was based on ‘unsubstantiated accusations’ and may ‘compromise the ability of female nuns to ‘fulfill their mission.’

” ‘I would say the mandate is more critical of positions we haven’t taken than those we have taken,’ says Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference. ‘As I read that document, the concern is the issues we tend to be more silent about when the bishops are speaking out very clearly about some things. There are issues about which we think there’s a need for a genuine dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be a climate of that in the church right now.’

“Farrell tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that the leadership organization is currently gathering the perspectives of all of its members in preparation for its national assembly in August.

” ‘We’re hoping to come out of that assembly with a much clearer direction about [the Vatican's decision], and that’s when the national board and presidency can proceed,’ she says.

“Among the options on the table, she says, are fully complying with the mandate, not complying with the mandate or seeing if the Vatican will negotiate with them.”

” ‘In my mind, [I want] to see if we can somehow, in a spirited, nonviolent strategizing, look for maybe a third way that refuses to define the mandate and the issues in such black and white terms,’ she says.”

Included among the excerpts on the website are the following three sections:

On questioning doctrine within the Catholic Church

“The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking. … I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we’re in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where church leaders along with rank-and-file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”

On their options

“We’re not talking about the risk of excommunication or leaving the church. That’s not our intent. We’re talking about the Vatican’s dealing with a national organization, not with specific religious congregations or individual religious. The one and only underlying option for us is to respond with integrity with however we proceed. That is our absolute bottom line in this. Some of the options would be to just comply with the mandate that’s been given to us. Or to say we can’t comply with this and see what the Vatican does with that. Or to remove ourselves and form a separate organization.”

On the criticism from the Vatican regarding human sexuality

“We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in. And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.”

Other excerpts on the website cover the following topics: roles in the church, women’s ordination, the Vatican’s phrase “radical feminist themes, and abortion.

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts (selected) on the LCWR controversy:

April 18, 2012: Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response

April 19, 2012: Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 21, 2012: Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

April 22, 2012: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations

May 11, 2012: Sister Jeannine, Cardinal Ratzinger, New Ways Ministry, and Solidarity with LCWR

June 1, 2012: LCWR Responds to the Vatican with a Vision of Equality, Hope, and Dialogue

June 12, 2012: Report on LCWR Meeting With the CDF at the Vatican

June 21, 2012: Support the Sisters by Re-Directing Peter’s Pence Donations

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,092 other followers