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


ALL ARE WELCOME: Baltimore Pastor Defends LGBT Ministry from Pulpit

July 24, 2013
Fr. Joe Muth

Fr. Joe Muth

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

Faced with criticism of a parish LGBT outreach ministry, Fr. Joe Muth’s homily in early Julysent a message relevant for all Catholic parishes about welcome, diversity, and the Gospel. The pastor heads up St. Matthew’s Parish, Baltimore, Maryland, which recently particiapted in their city’s Pride parade.  Fr. Muth was also recently quoted in the news for his support of gay and lesbian Catholics.

Fr. Muth drew on the readings to warn against literal interpretations of Scripture, often used in discussions of sexuality, before holding up the Gospel message for that Sunday. He uses Scripture to introduce the ministry’s place in their parish:

“Rejecting  one another is rejecting God, because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the gospel today the 72 returned in jubilation not because they had divided the communities where they preached, deported all the immigrants, and discriminated against people of color, but because they preached the word of God and rid the community of demons. Our internal demons are divisive, but we have to face them and rid ourselves of them…

“Two years ago when a Gay and Lesbian Outreach group, called LEAD, started in the parish, I supported this new organization. Why? Because some Gay and Lesbian people asked me if it was ok to go to church here. Can you imagine that? They had to ask. It wasn’t obvious because of my attitude or the church attitude that they were accepted. So I told them the same thing I have told other individuals and groups who wanted to join St. Matthew, “You are welcome!” Sometimes, as soon as I talk about our Gay and Lesbian outreach group, I feel some tension in the church. I hear it and I see it.”

This localized tension around the LEAD Ministry, as the LGBT outreach group is known, is why Fr. Muth felt compelled to explain his process in allowing the ministry. He continued by explaining that if gay and lesbian parishioners are asked to leave, than so will all others who are considered “against the teachings of the church.” He asked:

“So if we lump all of these people considered immoral and against the teachings of the Church and the Will of God together, and ask them to leave….then…….Who is left?????

“Isn’t it better to reach out to people, rather than to be divisive and judgmental?? We heard in the scriptures today that the harvest is plentiful….that there is work to do. If we attempt to throw everyone out, is that our work? Is our work to throw people out?”

Answering in the negative, Fr. Muth then drew from the American bishops’ 1997 document, “Always Our Children,” to affirm the Church’s call to incorporate LGBT members into communities of faith and actively oppose discrimination. In summary, the priest asked the question many seemingly asked him – what does he want with this LGBT ministry? He answers:

“I want the children growing up in this church to hear their first words referring to Gay and Lesbian people to be words of compassion, acceptance, and kindness, not words of judgment, discrimination and hate….

“My criteria, as your Pastor, is the following: If you are human, and you want to get to know Jesus, and you want to live in a church community, and you want to learn compassion, acceptance, and kindness, and you want to share your gifts——-

“I have one thing to say———

“YOU ARE WELCOME HERE IN THIS CHURCH!!! God Bless You!!”

New Ways Ministry thanks Fr. Joe Muth and St. Matthew’s Parish for being a gay-friendly Catholic community and continuing to welcome all. It would be a pleasure to hear many more priests tackle LGBT issues from the pulpit with such Gospel-rooted calls to love inclusively.

You can read the full homily text on the St. Matthew’s Facebook page. If you have heard a welcoming homily lately, please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Parish Withdraws Support of Art Museum Because of Marriage Equality

July 6, 2013

Worcester Art Museum Lobby

A Catholic parish in Massachusetts has withdrawn its supports for a local art museum over marriage equality, coming in close proximity to the Supreme Court’s decisions advancing equal marriage rights.

The Worcester Art Museum re-affirmed its welcome for same-gender couples on Facebook and Twitter, offering congratulations on the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act and promoting itself as a wedding venue. This support for LGBT equality caused St. Bernadette Parish in Northboro to cancel their museum membership, according to the pastor Fr. Stephen Gemme, who also noted that the Diocese of Worcester directed this decision.

However, the facts behind Fr. Gemme’s statement are in dispute reports the Telegram and Gazette, a local paper:

“Adam Reed Rozan, the art museum’s director of audience engagement, said St. Bernadette is not a member of the museum…

“Raymond Delisle, communications director for the Diocese of Worcester, said the diocese has not directed any Catholic church or organization to discontinue support of the Worcester Art Museum.

“ ‘We don’t support gay marriage. But, we haven’t said divest yourself of any organization…I think any individual group will make their decision based on their plans and relationships.’ “

Regardless of the details, Catholics in the area do not plan to follow St. Bernadette’s lead and will continue sustaining this highly-acclaimed local art museum. Fr. Chester J. Misciewicz, the pastor of Blessed Sacrament, a parish near the museum, called it a “tremendous community resource” and plans to continue a healthy relationship between the two organizations by encouraging parishioners to visit the museum. Think Progress also reports that local Catholic education is also standing with the Worcester Art Museum:

“…The College of the Holy Cross, Assumption College, and Anna Maria College, three Catholic colleges in Worcester, will continue to partner with the museum in order to provide its students with cultural resources. A spokeswoman for Anna Maria College said the museum’s support of same-sex marriage is irrelevant. ‘Our relationship with the WAM is related to our distinctive and historically strong art program. It helps us to provide access to our students to pursue their studies,’ she said.”

Even though the Delisle rejected St. Bernadette’s assertion about the diocese’s involvement, a recent history of anti-LGBT actions there leave clear indications that the diocese is not a welcoming agent. Last year, Bishop Robert McManus rejected a commencement speaker because of her support for marriage equality and refused to sell property to a gay couple over fears they might host wedding receptions.

It is positive that Catholic institutions are standing by a cherished local museum and not succumbing to reductionist thought over marriage equality like the Northboro parish did. If you live near Worcester, why not visit this LGBT-positive cultural site?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Leave Over LGBT Issues, As Bishops Redouble Anti-Equality Work

July 2, 2013

Archbishop Charles Chaput denies Communion to parish activists

A new poll conducted at a Philadelphia-area parish by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management reveals that LGBT issues are rising in prominence as a reason Catholics leave the Church. Yet, at the same time, members of the hierarchy double-down on their efforts to oppose equality for sexual minorities.

The survey asked 189 non-practicing and former Catholics about their reasons for leaving, producing instructive results for Catholic bishops and clergy struggling to retain parishioners. Scandals around sexual abuse and mishandling of cases was the primary reason, at about seventeen percent of respondents, but this does not reveal current trends. NewsWorks interviewed the poll’s director, Charles Zech of Villanova University, who said:

” ‘People who are going to leave the church over the scandal and the church’s handling of it have already left. So people leaving the church today are leaving for other reasons…A growing reason we found out was the church’s attitude toward homosexuals and gay marriage. A lot of younger people object to the church’s teaching on that.’ “

Catholic support of LGBT rights, especially for equal marriage, is well-documented, but there is little hard data on what the practical implications of this split between Catholics in the pews and their anti-gay leaders. This study suggests not only are the bishops’ policies against marriage equality and LGBT rights harming the directly affected communities, but have wider implications which undermine parish communities. Most leaving do not quit organized religion, but transfer to Protestant communities.

As this new polling is released, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is preparing anew to oppose anti-discrimination legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Pennsylvania is the sole northeast state without LGBT protections written into law on such things as employment and housing, and equality advocates are hoping to change this legislation. NewsWorks reports that representatives of the Conference base their objections in a fear that the Catholic Church would be forced to contradict its beliefs in social services, hospitals, and other institutions.

The Villanova parish study, which will not be made public, names both local issues as well as problems with the Vatican and US bishops as reasons for leaving the Catholic church. Polling director Zech believes local changes, like improved liturgies, could stem the losses. Many troubles are occurring in Philadelphia over parish-based issues, like closures and clustering, that even lead to protests at an immigration Mass recently–and saw Archbishop Charles Chaput deny Communion to three people.

Philadelphia Catholic leadership could withdraw their opposition to simple anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of LGBT people to their jobs, homes, and public services. Protecting the dignity of every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is well-rooted in the Catholic tradition and it is why so many Catholics support equality. It is time to focus on creating welcoming communities and building up strong parishes, instead of opposing anti-discrimination laws and denying Communion.   The new polling data show that the bishops’ current course on LGBT issues is a losing proposition.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


‘Courageous Conversation’ Effort Seeks Change in Parishes

June 30, 2013

Courageous Conversations imageThe struggle for LGBT legal equality advances in the wake of the Supreme Court’s two decisions this week and yet, for Catholics, creating equality in our Church remains unachieved. Equally Blessed, a coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, is asking Catholics to engage in ‘Courageous Conversations’ to create such change.

Catholics are routinely identified in polling as supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people because of a deep commitment to justice. Support comes because of Catholic faith, not in spite of it and the ‘Courageous Conversation’ effort aims at breaking the silence around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity within Catholic communities. To quote Equally Blessed:

“As Catholics, we continue to take an active role in our communities, creating the kind of parishes and schools that we feel nurtured in and called to. This involves cultivating relationships by reaching out to those around us and illustrating why our faith calls us to tell our stories and those of our loved ones.

“Opening up in your community can be intimidating. Catholic institutions are often seen as unwelcoming to people who support the rights and dignity of LGBT people, but we know that many parishes and Catholic schools of all levels are supportive of LGBT Catholics and allies.”

New Ways Ministry strongly urges participation in having a ‘Courageous Conversation’ this week to break the silence. Engage with those in the pews next to you, your pastor, parish leaders and staff, school administrators, land others. If you are unsure where to start, Equally Blessed provides a few tips and a resources page available here. Start with those you already have a relationship with, be honest and personal with them, and above all make a concerted effort to listen.

What might be the outcome of these conversations? Equally Blessed provides a few words about the impact a ‘Courageous Conversation’ can have:

“ ‘Sometimes when we share stories, we do see an “Ah Ha” moment or a change of heart, sometimes it is not a complete turnaround but just a willingness to reconsider because they see the whole person.’ –Rosa

“ ‘[When we began our ministry] two and one half years ago, we could not have held a Pride weekend at St Matthew. But over these 2 1/2 years, we have taken many small steps to get where we are today. Just this past weekend, it was PRIDE weekend at our parish. Rainbow flags welcomed you, an 11′ banner announced the Pride Parade date, we sold Pride T Shirts, and members spoke after Communion asking all St Matthew parishioners to walk with us.’ – Ryan”

You can also become involved on social media by sharing this campaign on Facebook, Twitter (use the hashtag #CourageousConversation), etc. For a graphic and link to Equally Blessed’s resources, visit the New Ways Ministry Facebook page here or the Twitter profile here.

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To ActionDignityUSAFortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Parish Marches in Portland Pride Parade Despite Archbishop’s Prohibition

June 16, 2013

Today, as the city of Portland, Oregon, celebrates LGBT Pride Day, a local Catholic parish will be marching in the parade, proclaiming God’s love for all, even though their archbishop has directed them not to do so.

St. Andrew Catholic Church

St. Andrew Catholic Church

St. Andrew’s parish, a gay-friendly parish since the 1990′s, had announced their intention to take part in the parade, marching with their parish banner, a rainbow flag which says “Welcoming the Whole Family. St. Andrew Catholic Church.”  Three other Catholic parishes in Portland had also agreed to march:  St. Francis of Assisi, St. Philip Neri, St. Andre Bessette.  OregonLive.com reported that Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample directed them not to march:

“Monsignor Dennis O’Donovan, vicar general of theArchdiocese of Portland, called St. Andrew’s pastor, the Rev. Dave Zegar,  on May 31 on behalf of Sample, parishioners say. O’Donovan relayed the message that individuals could walk in the parade but that the archbishop did not want St. Andrew’s members to walk as a community.

“Sample, who was installed as archbishop April 2, is in San Diego to attend the annual summer meeting of United States bishops, according to Bud Bunce,  spokesman for the archdiocese. He could not be reached for comment.

“Bunce confirmed that O’Donovan had made the phone call. While the archdiocese respects all people, Bunce said, ‘this was not an event that St. Andrew’s parish could be in as a parish.’ “

But, St. Andrew’s parishioners thought otherwise:

“On June 4, [Rev. Dave] Zegar [pastor] met with a group of St. Andrew’s parishioners, who decided to stand by their 17-year commitment to Portland’s gay community. At Mass on Sunday, Zegar shared the group’s decision with the congregation, who responded with a standing ovation, according to Tom Karwaki, who chairs the parish’s pastoral council.”

There was no report about what the three other parishes would be doing.  The pastor of St. Andre Bessette parish said he had not been contacted by the archdiocese.

One parishioner expressed the need to be public in the parade:

“Joy Wallace, a member of St. Andrew’s since 1998,  says it is common for members of the gay community and their advocates to seek out St. Andrew’s because they’ve seen the parish represented in the annual Pride Parade.

” ‘The banner is important because it says we are a community of faith,’ says Jane Braunger, a parish member since the 1980s.  ‘For us not to embrace this statement as a core commitment about openness and acceptance and living the Gospel is cowardly.’ “

In an interview with KGW.com,another parishioner expressed the evangelization function that parade participation accomplishes:

But Jerry Deas, a St. Andrew Parishioner says that’s simply not possible. They need the sign to identify themselves.

“ ‘That’s the one thing that [the banner] does. By people seeing that it’s St. Andrew, they know its St. Andrew and then they can come to St. Andrew. If we were just walking, just walking, they wouldn’t’t know who we were,’ said Deas.

“He also said the outreach works. People from the parade in years past have checked out St. Andrews and some have become full members of the church.

“ ‘So respectfully, we will then follow our conscience to reach out to present the good news as the Gospels call us to do and to welcome all people,’ said Deas.”

The issue will not end with the end of the parade, however.  Parishioners want an opportunity to talk with their archbishop about their decision to march:

“Karwaki said parishioners would like a chance to talk to the archbishop about their ministry and explain their commitment to the Pride Parade. He says Zegar asked for such a dialogue and the parish is drafting a letter to Sample.

” ‘We’re not acting out of disobedience,’ Karwaki said. ‘We’re acting out of obedience to the Gospel and the mission of this parish.’ “

New Ways Ministry congratulates the people of St. Andrew’s parish for witnessing on how important it is for them to welcome the LGBT community to their parish.  We are proud to have listed St. Andrew’s on our gay-friendly parish list  since its inception.  On their website, the parish mission states:

“St. Andrew is a faith community baptized into one body, which honors and celebrates diversity. We welcome and include persons of every color, language, ethnicity, origin, ability, sexual orientation, gender expression, marital status, and life situation.”

It is only when parishes trust their own discernment and experience and live up to their beliefs that real change will occur in the Catholic church.  May their efforts be fruitfully blessed by our loving God.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

U.S. Catholic:    LGBT Catholics and their church: Still a rocky relationship, but some signs of hope


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