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

August 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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


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