Awkward Walks: The Transfiguration, Coming Out, and Pope Francis

March 16, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Lent are  Genesis 12:1-4; 3:1-7; Psalm 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2Timothy 1: 8-10; Matthew 17:1-9.

The walk down Mount Tabor must have been awkward.

Scripture does not record what Peter, James, and John were thinking after the Transfiguration.  Perhaps they were edified by the mystical experience of God’s favor resting upon Jesus, alongside Moses and Elijah.  Or, more likely, I think they probably felt confused, frightened, and a bit distrustful of Jesus.  And that’s the real Transfiguration story – how the disciples struggled in their relationships with Jesus after the revelatory mountaintop experience – not the revelation itself.

Peter, James, and John ascended Mount Tabor with their own clear ideas of who Jesus was – friend, teacher, and fellow Galilean.  But now he’s suddenly different.  Whatever happened on that mountain, their perception of Jesus was changed in a profound way.  Jesus was still the same person as before the Transfiguration experience, but he was something more in their eyes as well — something which they had not known previously.

In their struggle to understand the Transfiguration, I wonder if the disciples felt a bit betrayed by Jesus, as if Jesus had intentionally withheld some big part of himself for all the time they had known him.  Maybe Peter, James, and John looked at Jesus and wondered with a certain sense of disbelief, “I thought I knew this guy.”  Perhaps they questioned, “Why didn’t he tell us sooner?” or “What else is he hiding from us?”  Or maybe, “Gee, this is more than I can handle.  I should go back to my fishing nets!”  These thoughts are why I imagine the walk down Mount Tabor was pretty awkward and filled with long silences.

I can think of two contemporary examples that illustrate transfiguration experiences – and the over-riding importance of a revelation’s impact on relationships compared to the revelation itself.

First, “coming out” by LGBT people to family and friends can be a transfiguration experience.  Disclosure of one’s own sexual orientation and/or true gender identity to loved ones is a big revelation.  However, it does not change the individual, but rather how others perceive and relate to them.  Like Peter, James, and John, family members and friends might experience feelings of confusion and mistrust.  They may experience similar questions as the disciples.  But, like the disciples, they must find ways to understand and incorporate this “coming out” revelation into their own perception of their loved one if the relationship is to continue.

Second, institutions can have transfiguration moments in the same way as individuals.  The first year of Francis’ papacy has been a transfiguration experience for me.  Pope Francis has revealed to me a new way of being pope that is profoundly different from his recent predecessors.  Now I find myself in the role of the apostles – afraid and distrustful – because I am not sure how to relate to this new Pope.  I love Pope Francis and want to be his cheerleader, but my negative experiences of previous popes have made me wary of religious authority figures.  It is taking me time to sort my own feelings between what I thought the papacy was and what Pope Francis is showing us it can be. 

The time following a transfiguration experience can be confusing and awkward – like the long walk of the disciples down Mount Tabor.  We may not be sure how to respond or how to relate to new revelations.  But it is important that we keep walking, keep talking, and remain open to see what happens next.    

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


As ENDA Passes to Senate, U.S. Bishops Renew Anti-LGBT Rights Campaign

November 6, 2013

On Monday evening, the US Senate voted to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would provide fair hiring protections for LGBT people.  On the same day, Catholic bishops expressed their opposition to the bill and amplified their defense of ‘just’ discrimination.

In a letter to Senators, three bishops heading up the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty defended their opposition to a law that bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bishops who signed the letter are Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

America Magazine explained the bishops’ letter with a summary of the bishops’ objections to non-discrimination legislation, writing:

“[The letter] notes, for example, that the bill: (1) lacks an exception for a ‘bona fide occupational qualification’…(2) lacks a distinction between homosexual inclination and conduct, thus affirming and protecting extramarital sexual conduct; (3) supports the redefinition of marriage, as state-level laws like ENDA have been invoked in state court decisions finding marriage discriminatory or irrational; (4) rejects the biological basis of gender by defining ‘gender identity’ as something people may choose at variance with their biological sex; and (5) threatens religious liberty by punishing as discrimination the religious or moral disapproval of same-sex sexual conduct, while protecting only some religious employers.”

Such arguments range from false to offensive to absurd, especially as many Catholics endorse employment, housing, and other protections for LGBT people. Journalist Michael O’Loughlin questions what positive impact opposing non-discrimination bills and policies

“What’s that now? Are US bishops taking Pope Francis’s message of focusing on poverty rather than homosexuality to heart? Are Catholic bishops going on-the-record in support of the marginalized and oppressed? Is this a sign of a new era in US Catholicism, the one heralded by lefty Catholics who have expressed unabashed hope in the new pope?

“Nah. Keep reading.

“Catholic bishops apparently feel that discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace is not only just, but in fact, not being able to do so threatens their religious liberty.”

O’Loughlin considers what might be motivating the bishops in regard to this issue:

“Catholic bishops relied on lawyers rather than pastors in their decision to come out against the bill…

“Fear is at the root of the bishops’ opposition to LGBT advances in general and ENDA in specific. Fear that society is changing so quickly. Fear that the church is losing its influence in forming morality. Fear that the church is being pushed to the margins.

“It’s remarkable to me that some bishops here have learned so little over the past 8 months. The world is hungry for moral clarity. Look how people have responded to Pope Francis. He talks morality constantly, and the world listens and reflects…If Catholic leaders here in the US feel they find themselves on the defensive, increasingly marginalized and perhaps even deemed irrelevant, at what point do they begin to reconsider their message and priorities?”

Equally Blessed LogoEarlier this fall, the Equally Blessed coalition spoke for Catholics who want to follow Pope Francis priorities in protecting all people and focusing on the pressing issues of these times, like poverty and immigration. Their letter to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions said, in part:

“We write to make it clear that the bishops do not speak for the majority of your Catholic constituents, many of whom believe, as we do, that the religious exemptions in the current draft of the legislation are not too narrow, as the bishops contend, but far too broad…

“Nor is it clear that the bishops’ views are in accord with the Pope’s. Responding in August to questions about gay priests, Pope Francis said: ‘If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?’ The pope, in other words, has no plans to discriminate against the gay men who, in secular terms, might be thought of as his employees…

“Our nation’s history teaches us that sometimes the church moves a recalcitrant society toward a deeper respect for the dignity of every human being, but that sometimes those roles are reversed. Unlike our bishops, a significant majority of U.S. Catholics support legislation that guarantees LGBT people equal protection under the law.”

The Equally Blessed coalition consists of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

For background information on ENDA, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s information page on the bill.

ENDA’s future looks grim in the House, further raising questions about why US bishops felt the need to reaffirm their opposition to a bill which very possibly will fail. However, their letter highlights the urgent need for Catholics in the pews to pre-empt Congress and implement non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity in their Catholic schools, parishes, and other workplaces. For more information on how to accomplish this goal, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Justice Antonin Scalia Misusing Catholic Faith to Promote Anti-Gay Bias

October 13, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Just weeks ago, Pope Francis shook up the Catholic Church with a wide-ranging and welcome interview that included positive words about gay and lesbian people. Now, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is making waves in an interview with New York Magazine where he speaks about his Catholic faith and homosexuality.

Justice Scalia is normally an outspoken Catholic, but he offered little when asked about Pope Francis. The interviewer pressed him on the issue of homosexuality, asking (New York Magazine’s questions are in bold):

“I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change [of LGBT rights].

“I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

“Have any of them come out to you?

“No. No. Not that I know of.”

He is asked in the interview whether his views on homosexuality have “softened” given the pope’s new welcome of gay and lesbian people, but Scalia is unable to understand how they could soften because in his mind the issue is set Catholic doctrine. The interviewer asks how these personal views affect his role on the Supreme Court, and Scalia answers:

“I still think it’s Catholic teaching that [homosexuality is] wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other…

“Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it as a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.”

He pivots from here into a lengthy discussion of heaven and hell, the Devil, and atheism, all of which you can find here.

Yet, as a justice on the US’ top court and a prominent Catholic, Scalia’s record on LGBT issues is less “standing athwart” on legal grounds and more a clearly defined legacy of anti-gay bias rooted in his understanding of the Catholic faith.

Right Wing Watch offers a rundown of Scalia’s harshest moments against the LGBT community, as when he previously compared homosexuality to murder and cruelty against animals or when he wrote a scathing opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that would justify discrimination against gay people. Then there is the unusual step the justice took in reading aloud from the bench his blistering dissent when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA this past June.

It appears Pope Francis’ effect on Justice Scalia is minimal given the New York Magazine interview, and it is doubtful the justice would act like other Catholics on the court in endorsing the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also clear in his language that Scalia continues to view homosexuality in terms of sexual acts, instead of as an integral part of a person’s identity. It is telling that someone as well-connected as the justice claims to know no gay people personally, and does little to show compassion, sensitivity, or respect for them as the Church asks of him.

With LGBT rights expanding in the US and Pope Francis preaching words of welcome, the moment is prime for the justice to reconsider how he speaks about and interacts with gay people. Perhaps acknowledging those he knows who are LGBT identified is a start. Perhaps he could consider aspects of his Catholic faith, like the dignity of each person and the common good pf all, when it comes to homosexuality. Perhaps he could simply start by echoing Pope Francis’ words in interviews and say, “Who am I to judge?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australia’s Catholic Prime Minister Defends Marriage Equality

September 8, 2013

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia

As Australians cast their ballots this weekend, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise to pass marriage equality within 100 days of the election will be fresh on their mind. Rudd, who is Catholic, made a strong defense of equality on national television this past Tuesday while responding to an audience member’s question, and cited his Catholic faith at several points.

Abbot led in recent polls, but regardless of the election’s outcome, Rudd’s public witness as a practicing Catholic is worth celebrating. A full essay on why he evolved in favor of equal marriage can be read on The Australian‘s website.

A local Christian pastor asked the prime minister about his evolution on marriage equality on the popular Australian television show “Q&A,”  The pastor wondered whether this evolution was merely politicking to win votes,  BBC News reports that Rudd changed his position on the issue in May, while his opponent, Tony Abbot, remains sharply opposed to equal marriage rights.

You can view the video and text for key moments of the exchange this week on “Q&A” below.


After the pastor finished his question, Rudd first addressed the issue of sexual orientation using the language of an ‘informed conscience':

” ‘I concluded in my conscience — through an informed conscience and a Christian conscience — it was the right thing to do [supporting marriage equality] and let me tell you why. Number one, I do not believe people when they are born choose their sexuality…And therefore the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that…Secondly if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here who are in love with each other and of the same gender should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration their relationship by having marriage equality.’ “

Afterwards, Rudd asked for clarification from the pastor on why Christians should oppose equal marriage rights. The pastor cited Scripture and ended with the challenge, “If you call yourself a Christian, then why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?” The prime minister responded with a rejection of fundamentalism by saying:

“If I were to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…For goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the fundamental principle that the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality then I think we’re missing the centrality of what the gospel — whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel, or a spiritual gospel is all is all about…If you think homosexuality is unnatural condition then, frankly, I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science and, therefore, if a person’s sexuality is as they are made, then you’ve got to ask the second question: should their loving relationships be legally recognized and the conclusion I’ve reached is that they should.”

Prime Minister Rudd echoes the beliefs of many Catholics that same-gender relationships are both good and deserving of legal recognition from the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobia a “Mental Illness”

August 23, 2013

A Mexican Catholic bishop who has been a strong supporter of LGBT issues has declared that homophobia is a “mental illness.”  Is that really an accurate classification?

The Billerico Project is reporting on an interview given by Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez to a television show, “Terra Mexico,” in which he stated:

“Why would I immediately think a gay or lesbian person is perverse or depraved the moment they approach me? That’s how people who are homophobic react. It’s a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

Bishop Vera Lopez, who is the head of the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico,   You can view a two and a half minute  video clip from the interview complete with English subtitles here:

Here are some other notable quotations from the interview in regard to lesbian and gay people:

“They are human beings and deserve respect.  The Holy Father knows it’s a. . . .I am certain he knows because the reality is that many in the church do not want to acknowledge the scientific reality on the issue of sexuality.  They want to keep homosexuality as a form of human perversion, an illness.  But that is no longer the case, scientifically speaking. “

Bishop Vera Lopez also commented on Scripture citations which seem to condemn gay and lesbian persons:

“We just have to read the Bible more carefully within a historical context and within a real context.  The Biblical texts we have used to bash the heads of homosexuals to say they are condemned by the Bible?  We have to read them much more carefully.”

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using “mental illness” as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people “mentally ill.”

And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.

Another comment worth noting is that during the interview, Bishop Vera Lopez discusses the genesis of sexual orientation as being a result of hormonal influences in the womb.  With all due respect to the bishop, while that is one theory, it is still simply a theory, and not totally conclusive as the effective cause of one’s homosexuality.  The scientific community is still debating various theories as to the origin of sexual orientation in an individual.

Despite these cautions, I am delighted to read these statements from this courageous bishop.  Our church needs more leaders like him who are willing to approach LGBT issues from a knowledgeable and compassionate perspective.

Bishop Vera Lopez has spoken out many times before on lesbian and gay equality.  In fact, he was even summoned to the Vatican to defend his point of view, but no sanctions were administered to him.  You can read more about him in an article that appears on page three of this PDF of the newsletter version of Bondings.   You can also read more about other social issues with which this Nobel Peace Prize nominee is associated by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Fr. Helmut Schüller, Austrian Reformer Banned in Boston, Begins U.S. Tour This Month

July 9, 2013

Fr. Helmut Schüller

Fr. Helmut Schüller, noted for his efforts at church reform in the Archdiocese of Vienna, has been banned by the Archdiocese of Boston from publicly speaking in a Catholic facility when begins a fifteen-city speaking tour next week to hold conversations about church reform with Catholics across the United States.

Fr. Schüller was scheduled to speak at St. Susanna Parish in Massachusetts, but National Catholic Reporter reports Cardinal Sean O’Malley prohibited him from using archdiocesan property because the priest raises controversial issues. The parish’s director of faith formation, Deacon Larry Bloom, said St. Susanna has a history of open dialogue and raising questions without a speaker being banned in the last eleven years.

The program, titled “Catholic Tipping Point,” extends the work Fr. Schüller currently carries out in Austria as the founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, whose 400-plus members released a 2012 document, “Appeal to Disobedience,” to begin conversations on pressing issues within the Church. National Catholic Reporter explains the document, and the larger initiative, as a product of the Austrian Church’s challenges:

“A main impetus of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, according to its manifesto, is the reduced number of priests available to serve established parish communities, which threatens the right of baptized Catholics to celebrate the sacraments, especially regular access to the Eucharist.

“The church hierarchy’s response to fewer priests has been to close and consolidate parishes, destroying existing communities and creating impersonal mega-parishes, the manifesto says.”

Other issues raised included married and women priests, healthier practices for Eucharistic liturgies, and expanding Communion to all the faithful. The Austrian priests have been criticized for raising these issues, but also responsible for aiding other priests’ associations find their voice globally. European Catholics’ experiences, and the responses of those like Fr. Schüller, instruct American Catholics grappling with new realities in the Church says Nicole Sotelo:

“Fr. Helmut…is organizing priests to resist exclusionary church policies and create churches where power is shared and Catholics participate equally, no matter one’s gender, marital status or sexual orientation.

“These Austrian priests are not alone. Priests are coming together in places like Ireland, India and Australia to look at critical issues facing the church and to work with local Catholics on solutions. In the United States, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests will convene next week…

“More and more, Catholic officials like Fr. Helmut are recognizing the church needs to engage everyone equally, not only because it is the right thing to do but because the church is suffering without the presence and contribution of those who have traditionally been excluded.”

LGBT people, their loved ones, and their allies are among those harmed by exclusionary church policies, and these issues will be part of his speaking agenda on the U.S. tour. Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA are among the sponsors of Fr. Schüller’s visit. Other sponsors include Call to Action, Catholics in Alliance for the Common GoodCORPUSFutureChurch, the National Coalition of American Nuns, Voice of the Faithful, the Quixote Center, and the Women’s Ordination Conference.

For a full listing of dates and locations, including the rescheduled event in Boston, visit the “Catholic Tipping Point” website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Theologian Challenges Pax Christi to Embrace LGBT Equality and Justice

June 20, 2013

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

Father Bryan Massingale

Father Bryan Massingale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


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