Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Suppport LGBT People

August 19, 2014

Last week, I attended the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.  Over 800 nuns were there for their annual gathering, and this year, the number one item on the agenda was the discussion of how to respond to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has required that the LCWR be overseen by Archbishop Peter Sartain.    The CDF’s directive comes after a doctrinal investigation of the LCWR, and their support for lesbian and gay ministry (and their support for New Ways Ministry was singled out as one of the problems), was cited as a problem.

The Sisters were undaunted.  Although understandably concerned about the Vatican’s judgment (at stake is whether LCWR will be canonically recognized, i.e., have an official relationship with the Holy See), this did not stop them from expressing their support for LGBT people, and New Ways Ministry.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, and I staffed an exhibit table at the conference, as we have done for over 20 years.  Scores of nuns stopped by our table and encouraged us in our ministry and expressing gratitude that we were there at the conference.  Many told stories of attending New Ways Ministry programs over the years, and how the attitudes of the women in their communities have grown more positive.  Some told us stories of the personal struggle of LGBT family members who have been hurt by the church, and of the sisters’ efforts to maintain some connection with these alienated individuals.

“Keep going!” they told us,  “Our church needs this kind of outreach!”

So, despite being under a dark cloud of Vatican suspicion, the nuns were standing firm in regards to LGBT issues.  For them this is not a question of sexual ethics, but a question of justice, and, even more so, a question of relationship.  It is their relationships and dialogues with LGBT people that have opened their hearts and minds.  It is their long-standing relationship and support of New Ways Ministry that keeps them welcoming us to their conference every year, even when they are dealing with their own troubles.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

On Sunday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, published an essay entitled “Sister Acts” in which he praised nuns for their courage, resilience, humility, and forthrightness in proclaiming the gospel through their actions. One of the nuns he cited is New Ways Ministry’s own Sister Jeannine Gramick, of whom he writes:

“Another remarkable nun is Sister Jeannine Gramick, who, while working toward a doctorate in mathematics, met a gay Catholic man who asked for religious help. She organized a home service for him that grew into a regular liturgy for gay Catholics in private homes.

“In 1977, she helped found New Ways Ministry to support gay and lesbian Catholics. The Vatican tried to suppress her, and her order, the Loretto Sisters, was instructed at least nine times to dismiss her. It passively resisted.

“ ‘The Vatican tried to silence me,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza, ‘and it just didn’t work.’

“At a time when much of Christianity denounced gays and lesbians, Sister Jeannine was a beacon of compassion and struggled to educate the church she loved.

“ ‘People always emphasize sex, sex, sex,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza. ‘And it isn’t about sex. It is about love. It is who you fall in love with that makes you lesbian and gay. Love is the important thing here, not sex.’ ”

Sister Jeannine’s story and opinion reflects the ideas of the majority of American nuns.  As I mentioned above, relationship with people is what is important for these women, and Sister Jeannine’s ministry began with the friendship she developed with a gay man.  And for her, like for so many nuns, love, not sex, is the important quality of a romantic relationship.

Kristof praises the nuns, saying:

“. . . in a world of narcissism and cynicism, they constitute an inspiring contingent of moral leaders who actually walk the walk.”

The sisters’ example of “walking the walk” with LGBT people is an exercise that many bishops should emulate.  If bishops would open their hearts–and their ears–the way nuns have, the Church’s inequality for LGBT people could dissolve overnight.

I am always very fond of telling people that New Ways Ministry has been able to thrive for over 37 years because we have always had the support of the sisters in our church.  They have hosted most of our educational programs, and they have continually supported with us with prayers, financial contributions, and hospitality, not to mention the frequent messages of support that I described above.

When the LCWR meeting ended, Sister Jeannine and I traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, with the hope of meeting with priests there to advise and encourage them to develop LGBT ministry and outreach there.  As it turned out, no priests materialized, but, not surprisingly, a community of Sisters of Mercy, the youngest of whom was in her 60s, welcomed us, offered us hospitality, and were open to doing what they can to support the LGBT community in eastern Tennessee.

The nuns continue to lead the way for an inclusive and welcoming church!  Let’s pray in gratitude for their lives and love!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

May 19, 2014: “U.S. Catholics Stand with Nuns As Vatican Crackdown Re-Emerges


Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”


Religious and Political Leaders Ask Archbishop to Stay Away from NOM

June 15, 2014

Today, Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco will be visiting several parishes to ask them to sign a petition asking that city’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone not to speak at an anti-marriage equality rally in Washington, DC, later this month.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The petition (organized by Faithful America) is a part of a campaign to ask Cordileone to stay away from the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) rally on Thursday, June 19th.  The event is being supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Cordileone is the chair of the conference’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  The rally is co-sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council.

A separate part of the campaign was a letter sent to the Cordileone signed by over 80 California politicians and national religious and community leaders, asking him to refrain from participating in the event.  The Los Angeles Times reported on some of the substance of the letter:

“If he attends as scheduled, they [the letter signers] noted, he will be ‘marching and sharing the podium’ with individuals who ‘have repeatedly denigrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.’ . . .

“By standing alongside those participants and organizers, ‘you appear to be endorsing their troubling words and deeds, which directly contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral teaching that “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it,” ‘  they wrote.”

Among the Catholic signers of the letter are Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, DignityUSA, Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns; Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, PFLAG National; Mary E. Hunt, Co-Founder/Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

The entire text of the letter can be read here.

At the USCCB’s national meeting this week, Cordileone re-affirmed his commitment to anti-marriage equality work and to participation in the conference.  According to The National Catholic Reporter:

“Pointing to the recent string of state same-sex marriage bans struck down by federal judges, Cordileone said the country was at a ‘critical point.’

” ‘An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against judicial activism,’ he said.

“The San Francisco archbishop also announced he would be attend the second annual March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., June 19. The march is organized by the National Organization for Marriage, a group advocating for legal recognition for marriage as only between one man and one woman.”

The letter to Cordileone also appeals to the example of Pope Francis:

“While not all of us agree with official Catholic teaching on marriage and family, we appreciate the many statements from Catholic leaders defending the human dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially the recent words of Pope Francis: ‘If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’

“Pope Francis words echo the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that lesbian and gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ “

If Archbishop Cordileone does decide to speak at this event, he would do well to distance himself from the negative rhetoric of NOM by speaking up for the Catholic principles of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for lesbian and gay people.  While it might be best if he avoided the event, if he speaks forthrightly for the human dignity and equality of lesbian and gay people, he can turn this potentially negative event into a positive one.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

LGBTQ Nation: “Calif. officials, community leaders urge Archbishop not to attend anti-gay rally.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler, National Catholic Reporter blog: “San Francisco archbishop under fire for plan to speak at March for Marriage”

Huffington Post: “San Francisco Archbishop Outrages Community With Plans To Join Anti-Gay Rally”

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News: “Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone petitioned to not march with anti-gay hate groups”


Cardinal Turkson’s Remarks on Anti-Gay Law Deserve a Closer Look

March 5, 2014

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, criticized Uganda’s anti-gay law while urging donor nations to sustain their aid commitments. Though his comments have been celebrated by gay advocates, a closer look reveals a more troubling understanding of LGBT issues by the cardinal.

Turkson made his comments at a conference titled “The Church and Human Rights” in Slovakia when he remarked to the media that “homosexuals are not criminals” and should not be imprisoned for their sexual identity, according to The Advocate. The cardinal, who is originally from Ghana, echoed several Ugandan organizations in requesting that the international community continue delivering aid, despite the new law. More than $115 million in funding has been pulled since the anti-gay law was passed, while the US and others are still evaluating their commitments.

This negative evaluation of the new law is a shift for Turkson, who once defended Uganda’s anti-gay bill when it included the death penalty as a potential sentence for LGBT people and said prejudices by some Africans were understandable. Turkson has also blamed gay priests for the sexual abuse crisis.  Perhaps his shift on this law is due to the influence of Pope Francis, who has taken a much more compassionate approach to LGBT issues than his predecessors.

However, Turkson’s address on religious liberty to the conference reiterated his belief that LGBT equality was not a human rights consideration. A closer look sets his comment to reporters in context, with the text posted by Vatican Radio:

“Another example is the use of the term ‘gender’ to suggest that sex is not biologically grounded as male and female but is simply a social construct or produced by what individuals think or feel they are. Moreover, attempts to recognize those engaging in homosexual behaviour as a specific group to be accorded human rights go beyond the protection to be guaranteed to all people under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Related to this is the suggestion that marriage could somehow be redefined, despite the fact that marriage is, by nature, between one man and one woman for their mutual love and increase of the human family, as affirmed in international law. Such positions distort reality because they attempt to rewrite human nature, which de natura cannot be rewritten.”

Turkson quoted Chicago Cardinal Francis George’s opposition to marriage equality and reiterated verbatim the Catechism’s words on welcoming gay people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” concluding that section with:

“Thus, while the Church regrets the discordance between homosexual behaviour as such and what we understand as the norm for God-given human nature, she upholds the integrity of everyone’s rights. See our Lord’s reaction when the townspeople wished to stone a woman to death for adultery: He managed to preserve her life and bodily security (John 8:1-11).”

Turkson’s four words that “homosexuals are not criminals” have been reported as a positive sign. The underlying reality is that he remains far from Pope Francis’ unconditioned call to protect every person’s dignity and for the Church to show love to LGBT people. The cardinal’s shift from supporting executions for gay Ugandans to a most basic recognition of LGBT people’s dignity is progress, but the Church’s leaders must respond with far more when anti-LGBT discrimination and violence is on the rise.  We hope that his words will give courage to the Ugandan bishops’ conference, which has yet to make a statement about the new law.

Perhaps Cardinal Turkson needs another conversation with Sr. Jeannine Gramick, as happened last fall. You can read about that here.

While it is good that Turkson made the remark, we still need stronger words from the Vatican about anti-gay laws around the world.  You can encourage Pope Francis to make a strong statement against these laws by joining the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Valentine’s Day Message of Love and Equality from Ohio and Kentucky Catholics

February 14, 2014

On Valentine’s Day, we have two stories about how U.S. Catholics are showing their love for LGBT people by taking their message of equality and justice to the streets this week.  One event has already occurred and one is scheduled for this coming weekend.

Protesting Bishop Paprocki’s talk against marriage equality.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday evening, February 12th,  Catholics gathered outside the Athenaeum, a Catholic seminary in that city, to protest a talk against marriage equality being given there by Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki.  This bishop made headlines last year when he staged a prayer service that included prayers of exorcism in his cathedral on the day that marriage equality was signed into law in Illinois.

The protest, organized by Dignity/Dayton and Dignity/USA, demonstrated Catholic support for  marriage equality.  WCPO-TV reported that while inside the building Bishop Paprocki offered arguments against marriage equality, outside, the demonstrators told a different story:

“The protestors strongly disagree [with the bishop], saying his theory clashes with the Pope’s beliefs. According to protestor Bob Butts, the Pope’s bigger concern is poverty.

” ‘My partner and I have been together for 26 years,’ he said. ‘This stuff is mean, hateful, does a lot of harm, especially to young LGBT youth.’

“Protesting along with Butts was Peggy Hanna.

” ‘I believe those of us who are not in the LGBT community, we need to come out and support them,’ she said. ‘This is the right thing to do. I am wishing the church would open its mind and heart.’ “

You can watch the video of the news report on this protest by clicking here.

In May of 2013, Bishop Paprocki debated New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick on the topic of marriage equality.

Father Joseph Fowler

On Sunday, February 16th, Catholics for Fairness, a pr0-LGBT group in Louisville, Kentucky, will march to the cathedral in that city to ask Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the ordinary of the city and also the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to “acknowledge the inherent dignity of all human beings, including LGBT people,” according to Father Joseph Fowler, an archdiocesan priest who has organized this demonstration for the last three years.

Fr. Fowler explained the purpose of the demonstration in an essay in Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper:

“While Pope Francis appears to be moving the church forward on LGBT acceptance, it seems Archbishop Kurtz is resisting. More than three years ago, Archbishop Kurtz made a promise — since unfulfilled — that he would review and consider support for a simple LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination Fairness law in Kentucky.

“House Bill 171, introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian and co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Wayne and 15 other state legislators, would extend discrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodations to LGBT people. It’s a law that says everyone deserves a fair shake at earning a living, putting a roof over their heads, and eating at their favorite restaurants without the fear of being turned away just because of who they are.

“And it’s the type of law the vast majority of Catholics support nationwide — 73 percent according to a recent Public Policy Research Institute poll. This same poll showed Catholics to be the most progressive Christian denomination in America on LGBT issues.

“With so much support among Catholics, and Pope Francis’ obvious overtures of LGBT acceptance, it remains an enigma why Archbishop Kurtz continues to avoid the issue.”

The Louisville marchers will meet on Sunday, February 16, 4:00 p.m., at  4 p.m. at the Volunteers of America of Kentucky headquarters, 570 South Fourth St.  They will walk to the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 South Fifth Street.

Kudos to these Catholics in Cincinnati and Louisville for demonstrating their faith in such powerful ways!  What a wonderful present for St. Valentine’s Day!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholics Support Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill in Maryland

February 7, 2014

Catholics were among those who spoke out in favor of a Maryland Senate bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit throughout the state. The bill, designated as SB212 and named the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act,” is more commonly referred to as the “transgender anti-discrimination bill.”  In addition to Catholic lawmakers, Catholic advocates from the National Coalition of American Nuns and New Ways Ministry were also at the Annapolis hearing to support the bill.

Delegate Heather Mizeur testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Michael Key/Washington Blade.

According to The Washington Blade, the bill was introduced by State Senator Rich Madaleno.  Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic who successfully campaigned to pass marriage equality in the state in 2012, submitted written testimony to support the bill.  Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a gubernatorial candidate, was present to testify for the bill.  The Blade reported:

“Heather Mizeur pointed out during her testimony that the Baltimore County Council passed a trans rights bill after two teenagers attacked Chrissy Lee Polis at a Rosedale McDonald’s in 2011.

“ ‘This is a protection we want to make sure gets extended statewide,’ said Mizeur. ‘Protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.’ ”

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, also a Catholic, submitted written testimony in favor of the proposed law.

The Blade also noted the presence of representatives of two national Catholic organizations:

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive co-director of the National Coalition of American Nuns, also testified in support of SB 212.

“ ‘We need to incorporate the vulnerable members of our society into our laws and our customs,’ said Gramick.

The complete texts of DeBernardo’s and Gramick’s testimony can be read below.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, representing the bishops of the state, did not send a representative to testify, but submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill.  The Blade  quoted from their testimony:

“ ‘The church firmly opposes undue harassment or discrimination against any person,’ said the group. ‘That principle does not, however, warrant creating a new class of protected individuals in the state’s anti-discrimination statute, especially when the extension of the law would presumably apply to only a small number of individuals.’ “

TESTIMONY OF FRANCIS DeBERNARDO,

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW WAYS MINISTRY

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Good afternoon.  My name is Francis DeBernardo, and I serve as Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry that attempts to build bridges of justice and reconciliation between the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the Catholic Church.  Our offices are in Mount Rainier, Maryland, and we represent the majority of Catholics in the U.S. who support equality for transgender people.  Therefore, I am here today to support the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, SB212.

It is important to recognize that Catholics support equality for transgender people because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it.  Our Catholic faith compels us to promote the human dignity of all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Our faith tells us that we must support transgender people not only because of their inherent human dignity, but because they are a vulnerable population.  They experience a shocking amount of discrimination, and violence.  This bill would send a powerful message that we in this state do not support such discrimination and do not support the denial of basic human rights.

Sometimes the transgender experience is compared to the gay and lesbian experience, and there is good reason to do so.  In Catholic thought, however, while there is much official teaching on gay and lesbian issues, there is none on transgender topics.   So while you may be aware of criticsm of lesbian and gay issues coming from church officials, please remember that no such body of statements exists for transgender people. It is not the same issue.

While in past decades, the Vatican and the pope have issued harsh statements on issues dealing with sexual and gender minorities, Pope Francis has ushered in a new openness and dialogue in regard to sexual and gender minorities. His many public statements reveal that gender and sexuality should not be the defining characteristics of a human person, and that all people need to be respected.

Though he has said nothing explicitly on gender identity issues, we do have a precedent from Pope Francis that we must pay attention to.  At the end of December 2013, a transgender woman in Rome was beaten and killed.  Her family would not claim her body for burial.  Yet Pope Francis’ Jesuit Catholic parish church in Rome did provide funeral services for this woman who was so terribly mistreated.  This action speaks volumes about the Catholic  support for non-discrimination coming from the highest level of the church.

Can the state of Maryland do any less?  Can’t we build a community where transgender people will be respected and valued as equals so that they do not experience the terrible fate that this Roman woman did?  Though Catholics support transgender equality from a faith perspective, it is a perspective which is rooted in an idea that is basic to the American way of life:  that ALL people are created equal.

I urge you to vote for the Fairness for All Marylanders Act.  Thank you.

TESTIMONY OF SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK

EXECUTIVE COORDINATOR, NATIONAL COALITION OF AMERICAN NUNS

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

I have been a Roman Catholic nun for more than 50 years. I reside in Prince Georges County. I taught in Baltimore in grade and high schools and at Notre Dame of Maryland University. I have worked for the poor and marginalized, and have served in a pastoral ministry of advocating for justice for LGBT persons for many decades. I serve as a National Coordinator for the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

I speak here today as a person of faith and on behalf of the National Coalition of American Nuns, who support the human rights of all people. 

My Church, the Catholic Church, has a large body of social justice teaching. It is based on the conviction that all persons, including transgender persons, are created by God with an intrinsic human dignity, regardless of one’s actions, appearance, or any circumstances in one’s life. Because we all share in a common humanity, all persons must be accorded equal respect and dignity.

Catholic social teaching does not single out transgender people, but it does emphasize commitment to the poor and marginalized. In his apostolic exhortation, The Gospel of Joy, Pope Francis said that we must have “concern for the vulnerable” and those who are “increasingly isolated.” Pope Francis noted the need to create “new forms of cultural synthesis” (par. 209-216). That is, we need to incorporate these vulnerable individuals into the fabric of our social laws and customs.

All persons, including transgender persons, need to feel welcome in our social institutions. There is no room for discrimination in securing a job or a place to live, merely because of one’s gender identity. And there is no room for being harassed, or treated unfairly, in other public places, merely because of one’s gender identity. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of U.S. Catholics (93%, in fact) believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others.*

I am here today as a Catholic nun, as a person of deep faith, to ask the state of Maryland to support SB 212, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Thank you.

* http://publicreligion.org/research/2011/11/american-attitudes-towards-transgender-people/

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Calls For Church to Find New Ways to Proclaim Christ to Families Headed by Same-Gender Couples

January 6, 2014

Pope Francis

In a talk from the autumn of 2013 which was made public this past weekend in the Italian magazine La Civilita Cattolica, Pope Francis described families headed by same-gender couples as one of the new educational challenges facing the Church.

Gulf-Times.com reports:

“ ‘On an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand,’ Francis said in a speech to the Catholic Union of Superiors General in November, extracts of which were published on Italian media websites yesterday [Saturday, January 4, 2014].

“ ‘The number of children in schools whose parents have separated is very high,’ he said, adding that family make-ups were also changing.

“ ‘I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: “my mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me’,” he was quoted as saying.

“The Pontiff said educational leaders should ask themselves ‘how can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?’

“ ‘We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them,’ the 77-year-old Pontiff added.”

It’s difficult to know what to make of the pope’s attitude toward gay couples based on this small amount of information.  On one hand, it is unsettling that he used a negative example of a child’s experience of same-sex guardians.  On the other hand, his comment about not giving them “a vaccine against faith”  seems to indicate that he realizes that a humanitarian approach is needed.

One definite positive insight is the pope’s awareness that the church needs to examine ‘how we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing.”    That insight is way overdue in the Catholic world.  Social attitudes and practices regarding gender, sexuality, marriage, and family have been changing for decades now, and yet church leaders, for too long, have chosen to either ignore these changes or to staunchly oppose them to the point of alienating whole swaths of the population.

Yes, Pope Francis is right:  a generation is changing.  But, not all those changes are bad.  Indeed, some are very good.  Catholic leaders do need to be aware of these changes and to adjust the way they present the gospel.  What worked in 1954 will not work in 2014.   The gospel message of unconditional love is the same; the audience, however, is vastly different.  People need to hear the gospel message in a way that speaks to their lives and their new realities.

If the pope is serious about developing a new way to proclaim Christ to a new generation, the best thing that he can do is to listen humbly to the voices of the people who experience these new realities:  women,  separated and divorced people,  single parents, same-gender couples, parents of LGBT people, and single LGBT people.  His move last year to encourage bishops to seek input from the laity on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the 2014 Synod on those topics is a good first start, but more has to be done, too.

New ways of proclaiming the gospel to our contemporary world are long overdue.  Pope Francis’ call for change is a good beginning.  He needs to make sure that this new call is truly new and that he does not inherit the old, negative attitudes toward gender, sexuality, marriage, and family, which have done so much harm for so long.

Bishop Francis Mugavero

Pope Francis’ call has a precedent from over 35 years ago, when Brooklyn’s Bishop Francis Mugavero wrote his pastoral letter, Sexuality:  God’s Gift.    In that document, which was the first ecclesiastical document in which a bishop spoke directly to lesbian and gay people, he told them;

“we pledge our willingness …to try to find new ways to communicate the truth of Christ because we believe it will make you free.”

It is from that direct statement that, in 1977, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent borrowed the term “new ways” to identify their newly established educational ministry for the church and lesbian/gay community:  New Ways Ministry.

Pope Francis would do well to mirror Bishop Mugavero’s spirit of openness and innovation, which, unfortunately, was not promoted by the Vatican over the past 30-plus years.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Reflecting on the Life and Ministry of Father Robert Nugent

January 4, 2014

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

News of the death of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS, has circled the globe in the last few days, and news reports and reflections on his life and ministry have proliferated.  Different stories focused on different aspects of Fr. Nugent’s life and ministry.

Thomas C. Fox, publisher of the National Catholic Reporter reflected on how Nugent’s pioneering spirit of inclusiveness is now being recognized by the highest level of the Church:

“Nugent will be remembered in Catholic history  for his  early efforts to minister to gays and lesbians at a time when few, in any, other clergy and religious would do so publicly.

“In some ways, gay and lesbian ministries have made great strides since the Nugent first reached out to that marginalized segment of our church. In other ways, those ministerial efforts have made only small gains. Gay and lesbian ministries are still not the norm in Catholic parishes and New Ways Ministry is seldom welcomed into parishes.

“Pope Francis, as if taking the lead from the now deceased Nugent, when asked how he views gay clergy, responded: ‘Whom am I to judge?’

“That was precisely Nugent’s attitude — and he lived as Francis now preaches.”

Father James Martin, SJ, editor-at-large of America  magazine was quoted in The Huffington Post’s  news story of Fr. Nugent’s death, praising him for the integrity with which he navigated difficult situations:

“I always admired Father Nugent’s pioneering work with gay and lesbian Catholics; along with Sister Jeannine Gramick he helped many thousands of people feel more welcome in their church. But I admired just as much his fidelity to his vow of obedience. In a complicated time, Father Nugent navigated a course between justice and fidelity with enormous grace and trust in God. All Catholics–not just gays and lesbians –owe him a debt of gratitude. May he rest in peace.”

In talking about “justice and fidelity,” Fr. Martin is likely referring to Fr. Nugent’s response to the Vatican censure of the ministry that he shared with Sister Jeannine Gramick.  The Catholic News Service story in The Catholic Review recounts that challenging time of his life:

“New Ways Ministry was subject to repeated investigations and inquiries at the diocesan, religious-order and Vatican levels, including one ordered in 1994 by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI.
“As a result of the investigation, Father Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, then a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, were ordered to stop pastoral ministry to gays, saying they advanced ‘doctrinally unacceptable’ positions ‘regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination.’
“After a year of speaking and writing about homosexuality, Father Nugent and Sister Gramick were directed to stop talking about the topic and the Vatican investigation itself. Father Nugent complied, but Sister Gramick ultimately decided to defy the ban and left her order to join the Sisters of Loretto.”
In addition, the same news story (which includes a comprehensive biography of the priest) notes an important high point in Fr. Nugent’s ministry:
“The Paulist Center Community in Boston gave its 1995 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice, named after the Paulists’ founder, to Sister Gramick and Father Nugent. ‘This is the first time we have received an award as a team from a mainstream, nongay organization,’ Father Nugent said at the award ceremony. “
Previous recipients of the Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice include Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez.
The Washington Blade story noted another award that Fr. Nugent received:

“. . . Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA, said Nugent’s more than 20 years as a leader of New Ways Ministry continues to have an impact on LGBT Catholics and Catholic clergy despite his absence from direct work on LGBT issues in recent years.

“ ‘Dignity USA gave Bob a lifetime achievement award in 2001 to recognize just how important he was as a ground-breaking figure in lesbian and gay ministry throughout the 70s and 80s,’ Duddy-Burke said. ‘I continue to meet people who say Bob’s writings, workshops, and personal ministry were the thing that gave them hope as they were coming out in the 70s and the 80s,’ she said.”

On The Billerico Report blog, John Becker hailed Fr. Nugent as a “Catholic LGBT Rights Hero,” noting that even after he was censured, he continued to do what he could for lesbian and gay people:

“Although Fr. Nugent stopped leading public workshops and retreats about LGBT issues, he continued ministering one-on-one and with small groups. He maintained his pro-equality beliefs until the end of his life.

“The LGBT community has lost one of our heroes, one who stood up and spoke out against the Catholic Church’s institutional homophobia when few others within that church would.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In addition to these public testimonies, New Ways Ministry has been receiving email from all over the nation and the globe attesting to the many ways that Fr. Nugent’s ministry touched people’s lives.   We are so grateful for the many prayers and expressions of support that we have received from so many. Such support is so strengthening for our hearts and souls.

Brother John Gleason, CSC,  sent us an email which contained a poignant story which very accurately captures the essence of Father Nugent.  Brother Gleason wrote:

“For many years, when I was Provincial and later as Vicar General of my community, I supported Sr. Jeannine and Fr. Nugent.  In fact, I was presnote and on it was printed the followent in Rome the day they were ‘silenced’ by the institution and had supper with them that very night!  I was profoundly struck by Fr. Nugent’s calm throughout the entire ordeal.  Later, he sent me a note,  and on it was printed the following word by Fr. Bernard Haring, CSsR, from his book, My Witness for the Church:
” ‘I love the Church because Christ loved it, loved it to the utmost extreme. I love it even when I discover painful attitudes and structures which I do not find in harmony with the Gospel.  I love it as it is because Christ also loved me with all my imperfections, with all my shadows and constantly gives me the first fruits of his Kingdom so that my love may correspond to his eternal plan.  I experience the Church in the celebration of the Eucharist:  Christ and the Church with him remind me of all the limitless evidence of love, grace and mercy. In this the Church helps me to form a grateful memory. lf we open ourselves to this and gratefully remember all the good which has flowed to us in the Church and constantly flows to us, then we can and will all succeed in giving even the suffering from the Church its place in the heart of Jesus.’
“Although these were Fr. Haring’s words, they struck me as utterly true of Fr. Nugent and deeply affected me.  I have them framed for all to see and read and ponder, for it is really our love for Jesus that allows us to continue this, albeit at times painful, journey.
“I am blessed to have known him and grateful there is now such a wonderful intercessor!”

A brief biography of Father Nugent appears on New Ways Ministry’s website.

We will continue to update you with any further reflections on Fr. Nugent’s life, as well as letting you know about details about his funeral, memorial services, and any memorial opportunities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.

Related articles

Associated Press: “Catholic priest once condemned by Vatican for his ministry to gays dies”

Edge Miami: “Gay-Friendly Father Robert Nugent Dies on New Year’s Day”

The Holy Irritant: “Fr. Bob Nugent, RIP”

Religion News Service:  “The Rev. Bob Nugent, silenced for his work with gay Catholics, dies at 76″


The Best of 2013 in Catholic LGBT News

December 31, 2013

Yesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2013 in Catholic LGBT news.  Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year.  It has been quite a good year for Catholic LGBT issues, on all levels of the church.  From a pope who is setting a more positive tone to Catholics in the pews organizing to support marriage equality, we have seen positive movement this year on all levels of the church.  As we noted yesterday, when we drew up our list of  “nominees,” it was hard to come up with 20 serious negative stories from last year, and it was just as hard to limit the positive stories to only 20.

If you’d like  further testimony to the positive movement this year in regard to Catholic LGBT issue, you might want to take a look at Michael O’Loughlin’s essay entitled “For Gay Catholics, 2013 Was A Banner Year. Will It Continue?   It was published on the WBUR website, Boston’s public radio station.

Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.

The Top Eleven  (It would have been the top ten, but we had a number of ties) :

1. Pope Francis, in word and action, begins moving the worldwide Catholic Church towards a more accepting and pastoral approach towards LGBT people. 22%

2 and 3 (TIE).  Catholics play a major positive role in the legalization of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois, Hawaii, France, and Great Britain.  11%

  The Vatican asks for input from lay Catholics around the globe for its upcoming Synod on Marriage and the Family, including questions about pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples.  11%

4 and 5 (TIE). Catholic high school students and alumni organize in cities around the U.S. to protest decisions by their schools to fire LGBT personnel. 6%

The Vatican presents a top science award to a young gay high school student in Maryland. 6%

6, 7, 8 (TIE).   Cardinals and bishops around the world, including at least two Vatican officials, endorse the idea of legalizing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. 5%

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick debates Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki on marriage equality, and the audience supports the pro-marriage equality arguments. 5%

Catholic leaders and commentators welcome the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, despite criticism of the decision from the U.S. bishops.  5%

9,10,11 (TIE). Catholic parishes in Baltimore, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and Minneapolis/St. Paul march publicly in Gay Pride parades. 4%

The president of McQuaid H.S., Rochester, N.Y., allows two male students to attend the junior prom as a couple. 4%

Fr. Gary Meier, St. Louis Archdiocese priest, comes out as a gay man and reaches out to LGBT Catholics.  4%

Other Items which garnered votes:

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, speaks out against his nation’s court decision to allow for the re-criminalization of homosexuality.  3%

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting supports the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to lift the ban against young gay men joining the organization. 3%

Two Catholic hospitals are given national honors for their employment and patient care standards in regard to LGBT equality. 2%

Theologian Bryan Massingale challenges justice and peace Catholics to embrace LGBT issues as part of their social agenda. 2%

Santa Rosa, California’s Bishop Robert Vasa withdraws an orthodoxy oath for church ministers after lay people protest such a measure. 1%

Linda Karle-Nelson and Thomas Nelson, Catholic parents, are presented with PFLAG’s highest honor for LGBT family outreach and advocacy. 1%

LGBT young adults from the Equally Blessed coalition travel to World Youth Day in Brazil to spread the message of inclusion and equality. 1%

Write-in:

One respondent wrote in what he/she considered to be one of the best Catholic LGBT stories of 2013:

“Francis is elected pope, and says with regard to gay people, ‘Who am I to judge?’ “

All in all, it has been a very good year!    Bondings 2.0 and New Ways Ministry looks forward to even greater strides for LGBT equality and justice in 2014!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Did the Devil Make Illinois Legislators Support Marriage Equality?

November 16, 2013
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

What is one to make of the news that Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, will be holding a prayer service, including prayers of “exorcism in reparation for the sin of same-sex marriage” at the same that the the governor of that state will be signing the newly-minted marriage equality legislation into law next week?

The background of the story is revealed from a press release put out by the Diocese of Springfield:

“Scheduled for approximately the same time that Gov. Pat Quinn signs into Illinois law the redefinition of civil marriage, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki will offer ‘Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sixth and Lawrence streets in Springfield, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 4 to 5 p.m. Clergy, religious and laity are invited to attend.

On one level, the news is simply ridiculous.  Resurrecting a ritual that is filled with medieval sensibilities and myths and which is totally irrelevant to most Catholics living in the 21st century reveals a mind so out of touch with the faith of his people that one has to wonder what the bishop hopes to accomplish by this act.  Will his prayers overturn the democratically processed law?  Does he expect lightning to strike the pen of Governor Pat Quinn, a Catholic, as he signs the bill?  Is he hoping that these prayers will reverse the growing national consensus, including most Catholics, that marriage equality should be the law of the land?

On another level, however, the news is frightening.  Did Bishop Paprocki not realize the storm that he would create by using such exaggerated language?  Did he not realize the pastoral harm and confusion that such language would cause?  Did he not care that his heightened rhetoric will most likely be used by anti-gay people to inflict real, physical violence towards LGBT people?

If he did not think of these things, then one has to wonder how thoughtfully the bishop makes his decisions.  If he does not think about the effects and reverberations from his decisions, it could mean that he was simply blinded by his desire to make his point about the new marriage law without concern for how people’s lives could be harmed.

Most alarming is the rationale that Bishop Paprocki used to explain his decision.  Lest one think that the use of “exorcism” is simply metaphorical, the bishop makes clear his true intent:

” ‘The context for this prayer service may be understood by recalling the words of Pope Francis when he faced a similar situation as Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010,’ Bishop Paprocki said.

“Regarding the proposed redefinition of civil marriage in Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio wrote on June 22, 2010: ‘The Argentine people must face, in the next few weeks, a situation whose result may gravely harm the family. It is the bill on matrimony of persons of the same sex. The identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy here: father, mother, and children. The life of so many children who will be discriminated beforehand due to the lack of human maturity that God willed them to have with a father and a mother is in jeopardy. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts. … Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention [which is] destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project (this is a mere instrument), but rather a “move” of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.’

“Bishop Paprocki noted, ‘The pope’s reference to the “father of lies” comes from the Gospel of John (8:44), where Jesus refers to the devil as “a liar and the father of lies.” So Pope Francis is saying that same-sex ‘marriage’ comes from the devil and should be condemned as such.”

One has to wonder where Bishop Paprocki has been since Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis, whose outreach towards LGBT people has been unparalleled in the papacy.  He takes Cardinal Bergoglio literally from this 2010 quotation, made in the heat of a political debate.  Why didn’t he take literally the words of Pope Francis, made in a more reflective moment, when he said that church leaders should not obsess about same-sex marriage?

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL,  New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, who debated Bishop Paprocki on the issue of same-sex marriage earlier this year, stated it eloquently:

“It is disingenuous of Bishop Paprocki to use the words of Pope Francis from 2010 against same-sex marriage. As President of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina in 2010, he was articulating the words of the Bishops’ Conference. We know from information made public since then, that even in 2010 he personally advocated civil unions. The Pope urges all of us to be open, and Francis sure has.

“Bishop Paprocki should heed the words of Francis in 2013 from his interview with the Jesuit editor of Civilta Cattolica.
‘We cannot insist only on …gay marriage … it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time…The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.’

Jesuit spiritual author Father James Martin offered the following observation about Bishop Paprocki’s prayer service on Twitter yeserday:

JamesMartinOnPaprocki_Twitter

There is yet another way to interpret Paprocki’s strange decision to host this “exorcism.” It is an indication of how desperate some of the Catholic hierarchy have become in their attempts to oppose marriage equality.  Having failed in the political process, the bishop now is trying to encourage fear by evoking a medieval ritual which no longer is taken seriously by most Catholics.  This tactic is similar to Ted Cruz’ attempt to hijack the Affordable Care Act by closing down the government. Everyone loses in a situation like that, but the biggest losers are those who use false methods to stir up fear and confusion.  Such extremist tactics reveal the weakness of their ability to connect with people through more rational and humane means.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

November 15, 2013:  “Springfield bishop calls for exorcism tied to gay marriage.”

November 15, 2013:  “Gay Marriage Exorcism: Illinois Bishop Plans Prayer Service Opposing ‘Evil’ Marriage Equality Law.”


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