Parish Bulletin Tells the Story of a Lesbian Couple’s Commitment

August 25, 2014

Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community.  Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community.  They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman.  LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.

Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades.  Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:

“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.

“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”

Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:

“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”

After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:

“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “

It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin.  It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives.  It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Gay Parishioner Told to Observe Mass from Crying Room, Expelled from Ministries

June 18, 2014

Bobby Glenn Brown, right, and his partner, Don Roberts

Bobby Glenn Brown committed himself to his longtime partner, Don Roberts, in a small backyard wedding ceremony. For that, Brown has been removed from several parish volunteer positions in his Catholic parish in Marquette, Michigan, and told he may observe Mass only from the ‘crying room’ at the rear of the church.

The couple gathered with friends and family last Saturday for eacxh partner to make vows to one another after 31 years together, even while Michigan does not yet recognize their relationship legally. ABC News 10 reported on the following morning’s events:

“Brown was an active parishioner at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Marquette as of Saturday, but an incident Sunday morning with Reverend Larry P. Van Damme caused him and several regular church-goers to boycott services in protest against the diocese. Less than twenty four hours after the a commitment ceremony, the couple’s tears of joy dried to heartbreak as Bobby Glenn Brown was all but blacklisted from participating in traditional Catholic ministries…

“Five parishioners at St. Michaels who were present at Sunday’s services accompanied Brown in the lobby before Sunday Mass then exited the building in solidarity after Van Damme confronted him about Saturday’s “fake”  wedding ceremony. Because of it, Brown said he was informed that clergy decided to restrict his participation.”

Restricted participation means Brown can no longer serve as a lector or music minister during liturgies, and he was removed from the pastoral council where he  had just been re-elected as was serving as acting secretary. The priest also told Brown “he now could only observe in the windowed section in the back of the church designated for crying babies.”

Parishioners rallied around Brown and Roberts. It was no secret that Brown was a partnered gay man during his years of service at the parish. Of the incident, Brown told ABC News 10:

” ‘It’s a mixed message, and I think it’s the wrong message…There is a psalm that says “loving and caring and forgiving are you, oh Lord”. That’s the message that needs to be brought to the students at Northern [Michigan University, which St. Michael's parish ministers] , especially to a church that’s so close to campus and a place where they should feel welcomed and able to worship. And that message is being lost.’…

” ‘And my whole point was, I never was anything else and I always have been who I am…To be told that you can’t worship or aren’t welcomed somewhere to worship where you’ve been so welcomed, that in itself sends a mixed message.’ “

Many parishioners are upset that Brown’s dismissal will  drive younger Catholics from the Universityaway. It seems older Catholics are considering a move as well, with longtime parishioner Kathy Crowley Andel saying:

” ‘I just think it’s wrong…Everybody is supposed to be welcome in the Church and God is a loving God, and I don’t think we should discriminate against anybody because that’s not what God wants us to do. Even Jesus welcomed everybody.’

” ‘I’m not sure where I’m going with things. I am looking at options. I mean, I was born and raised Catholic and have been very active with things, but at this time I just feel very, very crushed with what’s going on because I don’t think it’s right. It’s like, who are we to judge? And they’ve been together 30 years. They love each other…it’s just not right what’s going on.’ “

For their part, Fr. Van Damme and Diocese of Marquette officials have remained quiet aside from a statement from Bishop John Doerfler citing the need for ministers to “give witness to the Gospel and the Church’s teachings.”

In moments of pain, like this exclusion of LGBT Catholics from ministry and even participation in the liturgy, it is important to look for hopeful signs and ways of building bridges. Pope Francis’ more welcoming tone seems to be filtering down through some of the hierarchy, as the English bishops and Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ recent remarks on sexuality make clear. The US bishops do not quite understand yet, but Catholics must not negate the profound and positive impact of lay people can have in righting these parish- and school-based injustices.

Though we cannot necessarily right the wrongs against Bobby Glenn Brown and his partner, this incident is a moment for all of us to pause and consider two questions:

1. How can we actively support LGBT parishioners in the present moment?

2. How might we respond to the exclusion of a volunteer or firing of a church worker at our own parish and school?

If you have suggestions for either question, please leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: Outreach and In-reach

February 17, 2014

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.

Parishes that want to welcome LGBT people into their communities often think of their work as “outreach.”  They consider that to bring LGBT people to their communities, they need to go outside their doors and offer a welcoming hand to the unchurched or alienated.

That’s a good strategy, but it shouldn’t be a parish’s only strategy.  In addition to looking outside their community, a parish that wants to welcome LGBT people should also look inside itself for LGBT members.

The assumption that LGBT people are always outside the church is not totally accurate.  While it is true that many LGBT folks have experienced some sort of alienation from insitutional religion, many others have not left the Catholic community and are still active members of parishes.  Parish leaders and pastoral ministers may not be aware that these parishioners are LGBT because the parishioners have decided not to make their identities known, some times out of fear that they will be ostracized.

That’s why in addition to outreach, parishes can also benefit from doing some “in-reach.”  In addition to welcoming outsiders, basically evangelical work, parishes can benefit from looking inwards to see why the LGBT people in their communities may not feel comfortable revealing their identities.

More and more LGBT people are finding it easier to be “out” in their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces, but some times, unfortunately, they do not feel comfortable being open about their identities in their faith communities.  They may feel they will be rejected outright or be denied leadership and ministry roles in the parish.

There are many ways that parishes that want to welcome LGBT people can send messages to those members of their communities that do not yet feel comfortable “coming out” :

1)   Include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their concerns in the prayers of the faithful.

2)   Mention examples of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in homilies to illustrate Gospel lessons, values, and virtues.

3)   Make sure your parish mission or welcome statement includes a specific mention of lesbian,gay,bisexual, transgender people.

4)  Host events specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, their family members, and supporters.

5)  Choose a special Sunday to celebrate the gifts that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people bring to the faith community.

6)  Adopt a non-discrimination policy for parish employment and volunteer opportunities.

7)  Make sure that visibly out lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people have leadership roles in the community.

What has your parish done to let LGBT folks in your parish know that it would be safe and comfortable for them to “come out” in your community.  Post your suggestions and experiences in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


More and More U.S. Congregations–Including Catholic Ones–Are Welcoming LGBT People

November 17, 2013

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will know that we like to promote the growing trend in the Catholic Church of parishes opening their doors to LGBT people and their families.  New Ways Ministry maintains a list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes and intentional eucharistic communities which has grown from its origin in 1997 with 20 listings to currently having well over 200 listings.

A new report from Duke University’s National Congregations Study confirms that this trend of gay-friendly faith communities has been growing rapidly across denominational lines in recent years.  The Association of Religion Data Archives’ website reports on some of the major findings from the study, noting that overall the changes seem to be connected to changes in society generally:

“The massive cultural changes in attitudes toward gays and lesbians in American society are also being reflected in religious sanctuaries, the study indicates.”

Some of the major findings from the study show a definite trend in acceptance:

“Twenty-seven percent of congregations in the 2012 study allowed gays and lesbians in committed relationships to hold volunteer leadership positions, up from 19 percent in the 2006-2007 study.

“Nearly half, or 48 percent, of congregations in 2012 reported that gays and lesbians in committed relationships may be full-fledged members; in the 2006-2007 study, 38 percent of congregations allowed such membership privileges.

“Seventeen percent of congregations reported having openly gay and lesbian worshipers. But those congregations were also relatively larger, so 31 percent of people in congregations are part of communities with gays and lesbians who are open about their orientation.”

The study’s director, Duke University’s Mark Chaves, a sociologist noted that the study shows that the perception that faith and LGBT equality are opposed is not, in fact, a reality:

“Chaves notes that an analysis of the 2006-2007 study found that religious communities who were politically active on the issue were about evenly split on both sides.

“And the latest study shows an increasing acceptance that is consistent with cultural changes in the nation.

“ ‘It’s not right to think of religion in an organized way … as being only on the conservative side of the gay-rights issue,’ Chaves said.”

While the study does not single out data on Catholic congregations, it’s clear that the Catholic community is definitely part of this growing trend.  Many recent studies have shown that Catholics are often ahead of the general U.S. population when it comes to societal acceptance of LGBT people (including support of marriage equality).   Hispanic Catholics, in particular, show strong acceptance.  (To learn more about these past studies, click on “Statistics”  under the “Categories” heading  in the right-hand column of this page.)

Why is Catholic acceptance so strong?  I think this has less to do with the general growing acceptance of LGBT people in the wider culture, and more to do with Catholic people living out their church’s social justice teaching with emphasizes the equality and dignity of all people, and that all people must be treated respectfully and fairly.  I think the Catholic emphasis on family also contributes to this strong acceptance.  Catholics are concerned with keeping their families together, and they want to make sure that all families are protected in society.

Whatever the reasons, it’s important to remember that the U.S. Catholic bishops, who speak strongly and loudly against LGBT equality, do not reflect the voice of the Catholic people in this matter.

If you are interested in helping your own Catholic parish or community become more LGBT-friendly, you can start by looking at the installments of Bondings 2.0’s occasional series “All Are Welcome” by clicking on that title under the “Categories” heading in the right-hand column of this page. You can also contact New Ways Ministry by phone, 301-277-5674, or email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, to obtain additional resources and consultation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

November 13, 2013:  “Gay-Friendly Churches And Houses Of Worship Growing, According To National Congregations Study” (HuffingtonPost.com)


First Openly Gay Male Country Musician Applauded in Catholic Church

September 10, 2013

Steve Grand on right, in a screenshot from his music video

Singer Steve Grand is described as “the first openly gay male country star” and is growing in fame. He is also a committed Catholic who openly shares his faith. Yet, what has made Grand’s music and persona stand out is how little those three identities conflict in the public sphere, and the warm reception he has received.

The musician’s rise began with Grand’s participation in his parish’s music ministry, rooted in his “coming out” as a teenager. He claims none of the performers there were “out,” leading Grand to doubt what his priest said about all people being welcomed in the Catholic Church. He also struggled with his parents, who sent him to ‘ex-gay therapy’ when they discovered Grand’s sexual orientation and closely monitored him in high school. Music became Grand’s outlet as he struggled with relationships in his family and with himself.

Grand’s music blossomed in the summer of 2013 when he released  an independent music video on YouTube: “All-American Boy.” It was a wild success. Even though he had been “out” for years, the video placed Grand in a spotlight before family, friends, his parish, and the world. Buzzfeed reports:

“The video wasn’t necessarily Grand’s coming out. He’d done that officially years earlier, but doing this was a terrifying act of vulnerability. ‘It’s me coming out as totally myself and just standing naked before the world,’ he says.

“Despite the risk and fear, Grand says it was something he felt compelled to do. ‘I think that we’re at a time now where there’s no room to be anything but totally honest and totally who you are…I decided this is who I’m gonna be to the world. Just my true, raw self. I’m putting it all out there.’…

“ ‘I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t true and honest…That’s what people deserve. People don’t deserve a lie. We have a whole new generation that’s counting on us to be brave and to not be afraid of pigeonholing ourselves. People need to be brave for the world to change. If it puts me in a hole, I’ll accept that. But I did what I needed to do.’ “

Grand’s anxiety ceded to overwhelming displays of support from YouTube viewers and peers, and even within his family. The Huffington Post also reports his fellow Catholics are making their support known:

“Many church members have commended Grand for his courage to openly sing about his sexuality, and his priest has held him up as a model Catholic.

“Father Kurt Boras, the priest at Grand’s church, said that Grand has greatly impacted the community.

” ‘I think he’s changing our community, he’s changing us’…Boras watched the video with some of the church staff, and any concerns were about the whiskey and beer consumption in the video, not Grand’s sexuality, he said…

” ‘I’ve never seen this before. It’s opened up conversations with me that are unbelievable, really…A lot of folks have come to me and said, “I have a gay daughter, a gay son.” This young man has really opened up some conversations that maybe I would never have had as a pastor and they’re coming and saying, “Can we talk to you?” ‘

“Boras said that he has not heard a single negative thing from anyone at his church about Grand or the video. He attributes part of this to Grand himself, whom he describes as “charismatic, humble and warm.” But part of it, he believes, is also due to Pope Francis…He said, “Who am I to judge?” and that one statement, I’m telling you, has opened up conversations for me as a pastor that I could never have imagined before. It’s a new kind of era.’ “

Given the increasing demands on Grand, he resigned from his parish’s music ministry. During his final appearance at Mass, the parishioners applauded him with three standing ovations and other signs of support. Steve Grand’s contributions over the years are not diminished for his fellow Catholics, but only amplified as he preaches a message of authenticity that is warmly received. This can surely be read as a positive sign of the times. It is also a positive sign that Catholics who gain fame can use it to promote LGBT equality, as was reported about the hip hop artist Macklemore earlier this year.

You can view his songs on YouTube, “All-American Boy” and “Stay” (please note, if you are not accustomed to music videos, you may echo the priest’s concerns with drinking and smoking).

–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


(Most) Rhode Island Clergy Offer Lesson in Pastoral Priorities

August 20, 2013

Bishop Tobin at the Young Republicans meeting

At the beginning of August a newly married gay Catholic couple in Rhode Island was denied Communion by their pastor, just about the same time that Pope Francis made his “Who am I to judge?” comments returning from World Youth Day. The same priest who denied this couple communion also criticized pro-equality politicians.  Similarly, remarks by Providence’s bishop on LGBT issues further demonstrate that Catholic leaders remain unsettled months after Rhode Island passed marriage equality. This situation has left many clergy in disagreement about the best response to new realities, while other Catholics wish for more sensitivity from their priests.

Fr. Brian Sistare, the communion-denying pastor, told legislators who voted for the marriage law that he would use his clerical position to defeat them in coming elections, doing so in an email filled with inaccuracies and anti-gay language. Aside from risking the Church’s tax-exempt status with such partisanship, his endeavor seems futile given Rhode Island Catholics’ overwhelming support for LGBT rights. You can read Fr. Sistare’s full email at RIFuture.org.

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence addressed marriage and the pope in a meeting with Young Republicans, where he coincidentally announced he had transferred parties from the Democrats because of their stands on social issues. Tobin reiterated his opposition to marriage equality and his belief that Pope Francis’ remarks on gay priests revealed nothing new. The Providence Journal also reports he spoke about denying Communion:

“On the question of whether priests should deny Communion to couples they know are living together — be they as gay couples or cohabitating heterosexual couples — Bishop Tobin said that question would be best left to the individual parish priests who know the individuals and who have counseled the couples about the church’s teaching.”

For their part, priests in the diocese are not following Fr. Sistare’s example of vilifying LGBT people and their supporters. In a piece by The Providence Journal, the response of clergy to the marriage law is viewed in light of a pope who wants more mercy and less judgment:

“Some of the topical questions facing priests now: Should they deny communion to an unmarried couple who lives together? Should they tell gay couples that their lives are disordered and they should refrain from Communion or go elsewhere? Or should they welcome the couples with open and forgiving arms?

“Interviews with Catholic priests around the state suggest most have a good idea as to what to say or do, even while they may disagree among themselves about the best approach. Most, however, are inclined toward following the lead of the new pope, even when they feel they must ‘speak the truth in love.’ “

Many parish priests equate same-gender couples with mixed-gender couples who live together and may be sexually active before marriage. This means that these priests allow Catholics to act according to their consciences when it comes to Communion:

“Father Thurber says he understands that ‘everyone is in a different spot in their place with God,’ and so he tries to meet people where they are. When couples who have been living together come to see him about getting married, he says, he extends ‘an open arm of welcome’ and leaves the question as to whether they should receive communion to their consciences and to God.

“ ‘I am not in the business of denying Communion,’ he says flatly. ‘As Pope Francis said, it’s not fair to judge. I preach the Gospel, and whoever hears it, hears it.’ “

Priests with a harder line insist their emphasis on rules about Communion is for everyone, not just LGBT people or couples, although they would remind a same-gender couple of the hierarchy’s teachings. Less concerned with regulations are priests like Fr. Charles Grondin who focuses on bringing people back to Mass and not on their perceived sins. He criticizes those who investigate parishioners’ lives and those who constantly remind Catholics about the rules about Communion. In a sign of hope, of the ten or so priests interviewed, all rejected the idea of denying Communion to parishioners in same-gender relationships.

Yet, Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic asks the most pressing question about clergy’s priorities relevant to Catholics everywhere, citing the example of Bishop Tobin and the Young Republicans. Contrasting Tobin with Bishop Thomas Lynch, who recently defended the Church’s efforts on behalf of those in poverty, Cones writes:

“Something’s wrong with the world when one bishop is trying to defend the charitable efforts of the church while another is addressing the Rhode Island Young Republicans about–you guessed it–gay marriage. As Scott Alessi notes in his blog post, Bishop Thomas Lynch of St. Petersburg [Florida] has stepped into defend Catholic Charities…Meanwhile, Bishop Tobin is up in Rhode Island licking his wounds over yet another loss in the civil same-sex marriage debate. Poor people? What poor people?”

Cones correctly notes the difference in priorities expressed here, and it seems that clergy understand that pastoral care and concern for the poor override any opposition to marriage, even if their bishop fails to do so. Cones concludes with a statement very relevant for Rhode Island, and beyond:

“Churches should be, of course, above partisan politics, calling politicians of every stripe back to the basic demands of the Bible: justice for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the poor. One reason for the current pope’s popularity is surely his basic message that the church should be a church of the poor. It would be nice if a few more of his brother bishops in this country would take note.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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