Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s ‘Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church’

March 29, 2012

Two plenary speakers from New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium once again made headlines in national publications, spreading their message of the Catholic call for LGBT equality to a wider and broader audience.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend speaking at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose Symposium talk was a rousing inspiration at the end of the meeting, condensed her themes into an essay entitled “The Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church” for The Atlantic magazine.  After describing her experience of meeting Catholics of all stripes at the New Ways Ministry Symposium, Kennedy Townsend introduces the main point of her argument:

“New Ways Ministry has a critical mission, since changing the Church will help those who suffer from ill treatment not only here in the United States but around the world, where the Church has so much clout. The Church has millions of members in Africa and South America, where being gay or lesbian can lead to a death sentence.

“Worse, the Church’s own teaching encourages bigotry and harm. Just last year, my father’s memorial, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, gave its human rights award to Frank Mugisha, a gay activist in Uganda whose good friend had just been brutally killed in his own home. American missionaries have encouraged the discrimination Mugisha suffers. Refuting their religious arguments is critical, and so is making a moral and religious case for gays. What we need is a transformation of hearts and minds, not merely a change of laws.

“The Catholic Church’s attitude towards homosexuality is at odds with its tradition of tolerance and understanding. The actual practice of the Church is true to this tradition. What other institution separates men and women and encourages them to live together in monasteries and convents where they can develop deep relationships with those who share their kind of love?

“The fight for the dignity of the LGBT community is a fight for the soul of today’s Church. “

Kennedy’s argument is spot on.  Catholics who support LGBT rights are doing so not in spite of being Catholic, but because of being Catholic.  They are doing so not to destroy their church, but to build it up.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (center) with New Ways Ministry's Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

As the daughter of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, one of America’s greatest Catholic civil rights leaders,  Kennedy Townsend knows how important the role of religion is in the struggle for the expansion of justice:

“My father grasped, as did John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, that in America the leader who wishes to enlarge freedom’s sphere must appeal to an audience’s religious beliefs as well as to their understanding of American liberty.”

A decade later, however, things had changed:

“. . . in the 1970s, feminists and gay rights activists did not adopt the same strategy and tactics. I think this happened because their movement grew out of the non-religious part of the civil rights movement. Recall that the civil rights movement was split between the followers of Reverend Martin Luther King on the one hand and Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers on the other. The latter group felt that religion was weak. Why turn the other cheek? Why not fight back? This secular strain also attracted many intellectuals who were, to put it bluntly, uncomfortable with religion.”

I’m glad to note here that those 1970s attitudes have been eroding in recent years. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD),  and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have recognized the role that religion must play in the secular and political debates about LGBT rights.   All these national organizations have developed very strong programs to amplify religious voices on LGBT issues: HRC’s program can be accessed here; The Task Force’s program can be accessed here; GLAAD’s program can be accessed here; PFLAG’s program can be accessed here.

Kennedy Townsend notes that while some progress has been made on women’s issues in the church, we still have a way to go when it comes to LGBT issues.  But she has not given up hope. Quite the contrary.  Having seen how changes occurred in other areas of church teaching, and how strongly Catholic lay people support LGBT rights, Kennedy Townsend is optimistic:

“That history can continue with its position on gays — and the laity has a critical role to play in pushing for these changes. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, the foremost 19th-century Catholic theologian asserted, bishops have at times ‘failed in their confession of the faith.’ There can be instances of  ‘misguidance, delusion, hallucination.’ He said that the body of the faithful has the ‘instinct for truth.’

“Already, I have witnessed that instinct for truth in the argument over contraception. Despite the hierarchy’s position, 98 percent of Catholic women in the United States use contraception. I believe that Human Vitae was the Holy Ghost’s way to teach us that we must use our conscience, and not lazily rely on the hierarchy when it is in error.

“At this time, when the hierarchy does not want to recognize that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and that the one of the two most critical commandments is to love one another, it is critical to assert that God loves the LGBT community equally. Sometimes the Church moves slowly, sometimes quickly. The point is to make sure the voices of dissent are not quiet and the Holy Spirit can be heard.”

For me, the key points here are that we must use both our consciences and our voices for the Holy Spirit to be heard.  If we really believe that the Church is the entire People of God, then we need to accept confidently that, as Newman pointed out, that the Holy Spirit moves among the laity.

The second Symposium speaker in the news again was Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.  When he left the Symposium, he embarked on a U.S. speaking tour to Philadelphia, New York, New Haven and Fairfield, CT, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Santa Clara, CA, which New Ways Ministry organized.

The National Catholic Reporter caught up with him again in Chicago, and reported on his talk there. While at the Symposium, Bishop Robinson focused on rethinking Catholic sexual ethics, in his Chicago talk he highlighted the problems in Catholic law and culture that abetted the sexual abuse crisis:

“. . . other aspects of Catholic culture Robinson said contributed to the abuse crisis are mandatory celibacy for priests, a ‘mystique’ some attach to the priests as being ‘above other human beings,’ and a ‘creeping infallibility’ of papal decrees, which is used to protect ‘all teachings … in which a significant amount of papal energy and prestige have been invested.’

“The application of the church’s teaching on infallibility is a ‘major force in preventing a pope from making admissions that there have been serious failures in the handling of abuse,’ Robinson said.

“Mentioned in particular was Pope John Paul II, who Robinson stated ‘it must be said … responded poorly’ to the sex abuse crisis.

” ‘With authority goes responsibility,’ Robinson said. ‘Pope John Paul many times claimed the authority, and he must accept the responsibility. The most basic task of a pope is surely to be the “rock” that holds the church together, and by his silence in the most serious moral crisis facing the church in our times, the pope failed in this basic task.’ “

In his Symposium talk, Bishop Robinson was clear that changes in sexual ethics need to be accompanied by changes in how the church is governed.   Bishop Robinson’s insights are a breath of fresh air in a Catholic atmosphere which has been much too stale.

For summaries and analyses of the Symposium talk, with links to articles about and the text  of his Symposium talk, check out these Bondings 2.0 posts:

March 28:NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

March 22: Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 17: Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

Additionally, the blog QueeringTheChurch.com has a five-part analysis of Bishop Robinson’s Symposium talk:

March 20: Robinson: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together

March 21: Bishop Robinson on “The Offence Against God”, “God’s Purpose”

March 22: Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments

March 23: Bishop Robinson: Sexual Acts, or Relationships?

March 26: Bishop Robinson: The Middle Ground

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

March 28, 2012

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speaking at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore two weeks ago continues to make headlines.   The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) has editorialized in support of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call to re-think the Catholic Church’s official teaching on sexuality, which he made during a talk at the Symposium.  An NCR columnist, Eugene Kennedy, the renowned psychologist and church observer, has also praised the Australian bishop’s proposal.

After summarizing Bishop Robinson’s main points (which can be read in the same newspaper’s article about the talk), the NCR editorial notes:

“Robinson is not the first to articulate the need for a responsible reexamination of sexual ethics, one that takes seriously the radical call to selfless love, but the addition of a bishop’s voice adds new dimension to the conversation. By rebuilding Christian morality in the area of sexuality in the way Robinson suggests, we will achieve a teaching that can better challenge the message about sexuality trumpeted by the dominant culture in television, music and advertising, a sexuality that idolizes self-gratification and that puts ‘me’ before ‘you.’ By placing the needs of the other first, our sexual ethic would reject sexual violence — physical and psychological, the idolatry of self-gratification, the objectification of people, and the trivializing of sex when it is separated from love.”

The NCR rightly points out that Robinson’s approach is not one of a wild-eyed radical:

“In the end, Robinson is making a profoundly traditional suggestion about sexuality, because what he proposes is rooted in genuine personal responsibility. He writes: ‘Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. … It is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything I do.’ ”

The tradition that Robinson is following is the tradition of Jesus in the Scriptures:

“Robinson’s take on sexuality — that it deserves deeper consideration than the narrow, rule-bound approach that has evolved in Christian circles — takes us to the heart of the radical approach Jesus took toward human relationships.”

NCR columnist Eugene Kennedy has also praised Bishop Robinson’s proposal.  In an essay entitled “Bishop Robinson and the redemption of eros,” Kennedy writes:

“Bishop Robinson’s purpose is, in fact, that set out by Pope John XXIII as his reason for convening Vatican II, “To make the human sojourn on earth less sad.”

“Indeed, in urging a much needed review of what and how the church teaches about human sexuality, Bishop Robinson draws on themes central to Vatican II. The first of these is found in placing the reality of the human person rather than the abstraction of natural law as the central reference point in church teachings and papal pronouncements about marriage and sexual activity.

“The second is found in the shift from an emphasis on objective acts to subjective intentions and dispositions in making judgments on the badness or goodness of how people behave. This rightfully emphasizes the impact that our actions or omissions have on other persons rather than on the ire that has idled within so many church leaders who have been so preoccupied with sin. . . .

“Robinson’s convictions on the need for a thorough examination of the church’s teaching on sexuality are significant in themselves but also because he has found a way to speak about this essential matter from within the church, even if in the mannered traditional way that dialogue moves, however slowly, toward a wider circle of prelates.”

After Bishop Robinson spoke at the Symposium, many people told me that they felt something new and remarkable had taken place. One person told me that it felt  like a new chapter had been opened in the church’s discussion on sexuality.  His talk offered not only hope, but a way forward that people felt was authentically human and authentically Catholic.

His experience as the Australian Bishops’ Conference coordinator of pastoral responses to that nation’s sexual abuse crisis transformed his thinking on how Catholicism approached sexuality and how that approach can be improved.  As was evident from the style and content of his talk, Bishop Robinson had one three things that more bishops should emulate:  he opened his ears, his mind, and his heart.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 22, 2012

Our final story about New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium includes a connection to Chuck Colbert’s Windy City Times article entitled “Catholic conference confronts marriage.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the Symposium. (Jim Brigl Photo)

This article contains a precise summary of Bishop Robinson’s talk in which he called on the Catholic church to rethink its teaching on sexuality:

” ‘If [ church ] teaching on homosexual acts is ever going to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,’ retired Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson told the gathering of nearly 400 Catholics at the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality.

” ‘For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is mortal sin,’ said Robinson, an auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia.

” ‘The teaching may not be proclaimed as loudly as today as much as before, but it was proclaimed by many popes, it has never been retracted, and it has affected countless people,’ Robinson said.

” ‘There is a serious need for a change in the church’s teaching on heterosexual acts,’ he said, adding,  ‘If and when this change occurs, it will inevitable have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.’

” ‘The teaching fostered a belief in an incredibly angry God,’ explained Robinson, ‘for this God would condemn a person to eternity in hell for a single unrepentant moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. I simply do not believe in such a God. Indeed, I positively reject such a God.’

Robinson is the author of the 2007 book, Confronting Power in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, which addressed the clerical sex-abuse crisis and was controversial among his fellow bishops in Australia who faulted him for a 2008 lecture tour in the United States to speak about the issues his book addressed.

Karen Allen and Mary Jo Hoag singing at the Symposium. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

Colbert’s report also contains the perspective of  “Chicagoans Karen Allen and her partner, Mary Jo Hoag, attended the gathering, this their second one.

” ‘What brings me here is the chance to be rooted in my faith and with the people of God and to be sent forth to create loving communities,’ said Allen, who leads a gay and lesbian family-and-friends ministry at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston.

“Allen said the parish group grew out the idea she and others got 10 years ago at the Louisville, Ky., New Ways symposium.

“In proposing the idea, she explained, ‘We were welcomed to do so by our pastor at the time, who said, “Where have you been?’ ‘

“The ministry is about education and prayer and not so much advocacy, Allen said, but ‘more about how can we as gay and lesbian Catholics live fully integrated, authentic lives in our tradition.’

” ‘Many have walked away [ from the church ] but returned in mid-life,’ she explained, while readily acknowledging, ‘struggling mightily’ with ‘clericalism and the hierarchy.’ “

” ‘The church is our church,’ said Hoag, explaining why she stays. ‘Many of us are cradle Catholics who grew up with the rituals, sacraments, and the teachings and feel comfortable. We are gifts to the church and shouldn’t go away, as we provide those gifts of love and understanding and outreach.’

“New Ways Ministry, Allen added, provides us ‘a shot in the arm’ to keep up our work in ministry.

The National Catholic Reporter posted a second article on the  Symposium, this one focusing on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s remarks there.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Symposium Coverage Continues with Discussions on Marriage Equality and Sexual Fidelity

March 21, 2012

Seventh National Symposium coverage continues today with a pair of articles from Chuck Colbert, veteran reporter of the Catholic LGBT scene.   His main article in the Rainbow Times entitled “Catholics gather in support of LGBT equality in church and society” features two of the Symposium’s plenary speakers: Maryland Governor Martin O’ Malley and theologian Patricia Beattie Jung.

Governor O'Malley addressing the Symposium

Two weeks before the Symposium began, O’Malley signed marriage equality into law, making Maryland the eighth state (plus the District of Columbia) to legalize unions for lesbian and gay couples.

Introducing the governor, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick thanked him for

“. . .his service to God’s people who are lesbian or gay, by his signing the marriage equality bill in Maryland. . . . I am proud of him because he is a Catholic. I am proud that the people of Maryland, and this nation, know that a Catholic practices his faith by serving the people, just as Jesus did, even when it may be unpopular or when it may engender criticism from the religious establishment. I am proud that our Governor is giving a lot to the Church through the service of God’s people.”

Colbert’s article quotes from O’Malley’s speech:

“ ‘I am not here as a Catholic, I’m here as the governor of all Maryland,’ he said.

“ ‘At the end of the day, all of us want the same thing for our kids — we want our children to grow up in caring, committed, and loving homes, protected equally under the law,’ said O’Malley, adding, success in the state legislature rested on a ‘belief in the dignity of every individual.’

“O’Malley has framed marriage equality as a balancing of protections for religious liberties and provisions for equal rights.”

Patricia Beattie Jung addressing the Symposium (Jim Brigl Photo)

Patricia Beattie Jung made a case not only for extending civil marriage to same-sex couples but also to promote the idea that sexual fidelity is an essential part of all marriages, heterosexual and homosexual:

“ ‘Sexuality is ambiguous,’ she said. ‘It can be dangerous and a grace. So we channel it in marriage. Monogamy entails promises to be steadfast and sexually exclusive.’

“ ‘I’m pretty conservative,’ explained Beattie Jung, who said her main reason for promoting sexual fidelity is its service to ‘love’ and to ‘life.’

“ ‘Great sex is wholehearted,’ she said.  ‘This is what makes it graceful and us vulnerable and vicious. These promises give us the time and focus to learn how to love.’

“ ‘Can fidelity serve same-sex lovers the same way?’ asked Beattie Jung. ‘Yes!’ ”

Jung’s talk generated a substantial discussion about sexual fidelity both during the question-and-answer period, as well as throughout the Symposium.  Colbert’s article highlights some of this discussion.

Barbara Johnson with New Ways Ministry's Sister Jeannine Gramick (Mark Clark Photo)

In another Rainbow Times article entitled “Lesbian denied communion addresses Catholic symposium,” Colbert features the Symposium appearance of Barbara Johnson.  He notes that while Ms. Johnson spoke,

“. . . any number of symposium attendees fought back tears.”

You can read excerpts from Ms. Johnson’s talk by reviewing yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post.

Symposium coverage should conclude here tomorrow.  For previous posts on the Symposium, check out:

“From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships” Starts Today!

Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance is Highlight of the Closing Day

Barbara Johnson:  “All That Matters Is Love”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Barbara Johnson: “All That Matters Is Love”

March 20, 2012

“What matters…and all that matters…is love.”

Barbara Johnson arrives to the Symposium with Francis DeBernardo (All photos by Deborah Winarski)

Those words were spoken by Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had been denied communion at her mother’s funeral, when she appeared  at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium on St. Patrick’s Day last week. For many participants, Ms. Johnson’s visit was the highlight of the three-day event.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo introduced Ms. Johnson, pointing out how though she had been the victim of this liturgical abuse, she, because of her courage, strength, and faith, was also the main healer of many who experienced her pain vicariously.

Barbara and Ruth

After a brief talk to the assembled Symposium participants, Barbara was joined on the stage by her partner, Ruth, DeBernardo presented them with flowers and then led the Symposium participants in a blessing of the couple and of their family.

Excerpts from Barbara Johnson’s talks follow:

“The past several weeks have been extraordinary for me. One day my mother was fine and we were meeting to see the progress on the new house my partner and I are building, and the next day she was in ICU on a respirator after suffering full cardiac arrest.

“After weeks of slow improvement, my partner and I shared a beautiful evening with her and the next day…she lay dying in another ICU bed.

“It’s been difficult to wrap my mind around just these events. But then… No, I don’t want to tell you the story of the woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. As my mom would say, “For heaven’s sake,” you’ve heard or read it enough!

“What I want to share with you today is the story of a daughter, a lesbian daughter, who felt her mother’s love and acceptance deeply.

“I remember when I first came out and my mom was not happy. Each year at the gay pride parade I would stand and applaud those PFLAG moms and dads for their courage and their compassion. And I would pray that one day my mom and dad would walk beside me in that contingent.

“As I got older, I stopped needing parades. And what I got was even better. I got a life where my mother and father adored my life partner. I got a life where my parents walked me down the aisle at our (not so legal) wedding. I got a life where, on our last happy time together, I thanked my mom for accepting and embracing me and for loving my partner so much…and her response was to pat Ruth on the leg as she looked her in the eye with the most beautiful smile and said, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way…right?’ ”

Ruth, Barbara, and Francis during the communal blessing.

“It is my mother’s love, compassion, and willingness to stand up for what is right that you see standing before you today.

“You see Midge and Dick Johnson’s youngest daughter who is deeply heartbroken that her parents are no longer on this earth with her and her family.

“You see this daughter who wound up in a whirlwind of media spectacle. You see this daughter who was placed in a state of grace by none other than her beloved mother. For there is no more amazing state of grace than the one I was honored to receive as my mother allowed me to witness her passing from this life and into the dancing arms of my dad.

“Some people have said, ‘How have you done this? How have you maintained your grace and composure during all this?’

“On one level, once you’ve been present at your mother’s dying, nothing else seems to really matter.

“But on the deeper level, I was witness to one of the holiest moments in life. I was present as my mother gently left her body to become spirit. I was given a spiritual gift that night. And I was transformed by the peace I felt in her peace. There is no more fear for me. There is only transformation.

“I admit that my initial response to the ‘events’ was to say that I would never return to the Church. And that’s where each of you, and so many more Catholics and people of many faiths come in.

Cathy Burke, Dwayne Fernandes, and Cynthia Nordone participate in the blessing of Barbara and Ruth.

“I received such an amazing outpouring from so many people of so many faiths, that I couldn’t help but see the error in those thoughts. I couldn’t help but see the love all around me.

“What matters…and all that matters…is love. The love that you, and so many others have shown me during my darkest hours, has been uplifting and healing. . . .

“My mother loved the Catholic Church. I would ask that each of us dedicate some piece of our future work to her and her love of what is good and holy in the Catholic faith and all faiths. She was a mighty, mighty woman. She was a hard worker, she loved a good party, and she loved her family. . . .

“I join you in celebration of St Patrick and offer you my thanks and deep gratitude for being part of my family of the faithful.”

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry


Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance Is Highlight of the Closing Day

March 18, 2012

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, ended on St. Patrick’s Day, with plenary talks by Luke Timothy Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who each received richly-deserved standing ovations from the assembled participants.

The largest ovation, however, was reserved for the appearance of Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had recently been denied communion at her mother’s funeral.

Ms. Johnson thanked the participants for the outpouring of support that she received from them and from Catholics all over the country.
She told how throughout the ordeal she felt the love of her mother leading and guiding her.  She told how faith in knowing of God’s love for her and her family kept her strong when the going got rough in recent weeks–including times when she received hate-filled and threatening messages from detractors who were purportedly “defending” the church. Bondings 2.0will provide excerpts from the text of her talk and photos of the event when they become available to us.

After her remarks, Ms. Johnson was joined on the Symposium stage by her partner, and both received a blessing from the assembled participants.  The text of the blessing follows:

“For you, Barbara, your partner, and your family, we, the People of God, the Church, raise our hands in blessing.

“We believe our Life-Giver and Love-Maker God is present; may every breath we take, flow into our world full of peace, hope, compassion and courage. Amen.

“We believe that Jesus’ love can heal all our hearts and all our losses. May we be open to the gifts of new life that the Resurrected Christ wants to share with us.  Amen.

“We believe all are welcomed and invited in this space and around this table of sharing; may we all become the Church inclusive, where the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face. Amen.

“Go now, in the name of Jesus, Our Christ, who said ‘follow me’ without saying where he was going, just promising transformation and relationship with the Triune God along the way. Amen.

The Washington Post today carries a front-page story, “Denying Communion: A priest and a lesbian set off a Catholic culture clash.”  The article focuses more on Fr. Guarnizo, the priest who denied Ms. Johnson communion, than it does on Ms. Johnson herself.  Most interesting is a quote from Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, a scholar at the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University:

“If I was Cardinal [Donald W.] Wuerl, I’d buy him a one-way ticket to Moscow. . . .These days, arch-conservative priests feel much more comfortable attacking their bishops than do liberals because they feel they’ll get support from conservative Catholic blogs and maybe some in the Vatican.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

March 17, 2012

On the second day of  New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, in Baltimore, Maryland, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia summoned the Catholic Church to rethink its teaching on sexuality, for heterosexuals and lesbian/gay people.  (The full text of his talk can be found on his website.)

The National Catholic Reporter news account of the bishop’s talk cites his call for

” ‘a new study of everything to do with sexuality’ — a kind of study that he predicted ‘would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.’

” ‘If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,’ he said. . . .”

” ‘If the starting point [as in current church teaching] is that every single sexual act must be both unitive and procreative, there is no possibility of approval of homosexual acts,’ Robinson said.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

“He proceeded, however, to question that natural law argument, especially as laid out by recent popes, and to suggest that a more nuanced reading of divine commandments in scripture and of Jesus’ teaching would lead to a different set of moral norms — starting with a change in church teaching that every sexual act or thought that falls outside a loving conjugal act open to procreation is a mortal sin because it is a direct offense against God himself in his divine plan for human sexuality.

” ‘For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is a mortal sin. The teaching may not be  proclaimed as loudly today as much as before, but it was proclaimed by many popes, it has never been retracted and it has affected countless people,’ Robinson said.

” ‘The teaching fostered a belief in an incredibly angry God,’ he added, ‘for this God would condemn a person to an eternity in hell for a single unrepented moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. I simply do not believe in such a God. Indeed, I positively reject such a God.’ “

Robinson’s talk was the last of three highlights of the day.  The first was a talk by Professor Patricia Beattie Jung of St. Paul School of  Theology, Kansas City, Missouri, who highlighted the social and individual benefits of sexual fidelity and marriage for both heterosexual and lesbian/gay couples. (More on her wonderful talk in a separate posting.)

Governor Martin O'Malley

The other highlight was a luncheon visit and talk by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic who recently signed marriage equality into law in his state.

A  WYPR-FM interview with New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the governor’s appearance at the Symposium is available on the web page for the Midday with Dan Rodricks show.  Look under the section for Friday, March 16th.

The Washington Post carried an Associated Press story about his talk which began:

“Maryland’s same-sex marriage debate may end up being decided in the voting booth, but Gov. Martin O’Malley told a conference on Catholicism and homosexuality Friday that he believes voters will come down on the side of human dignity.”

The article goes on to cite selections from  the governor’s talk:

“ ‘I’m not here as a Catholic, I’m here as the governor for all of Maryland,’ O’Malley said. ‘Each one of us in the public arena brings with us our own perspectives, our own traditions, our own faith traditions, our own ethnic backgrounds. What we hope and what we should expect of all our leaders is when they look at the Constitution is to protect rights equally among all people.’

“O’Malley said after his address to the group that it was important for him to articulate what was accomplished with the same-sex marriage legislation, which he framed as a debate on how to protect religious freedoms and equal rights, and said he’ll be taking that message to people of many different faiths.

“ ‘The conversation in the General Assembly is concluded, but the conversations at workplaces and dinner tables and kitchen tables will just be starting. I have a lot of faith in people in our state. I do believe with full consideration people will come to the conclusion that as we have in the past we can protect rights more fully and equally while also protecting religious liberty,’ he said.”

The Edge newspaper’s article noted that O’Malley thanked New Ways Ministry for supporting  the state’s marriage equality law:

“O’Malley, who is Catholic, received standing ovations as he entered the hotel ballroom and took the stage to deliver his speech. He specifically thanked New Ways Ministry for their support of the marriage equality bill.

” ‘Thank you especially for your voice in the debate that we just concluded in the General Assembly of Maryland on the issue of how we will protect freedom of religions and rights equally,’ said O’Malley. . . .

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, welcomed the governor’s remarks.

” ‘As Catholics, we are proud of Gov. O’Malley’s ardent support of marriage equality,’ he said. ‘His support is in the best tradition of Catholicism’s legacy of social justice for all.’  “

Photos of the Governor’s visit and talk to the Symposium will be posted when they become available from his press office.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Barbara Johnson to Address New Ways Ministry Symposium!

March 10, 2012

Barbara Johnson

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, will have the distinct honor of a visit from Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman denied communion at her mother’s funeral, whose story made national headlines.

Ms. Johnson will visit the Symposium with her partner on Saturday, March 17, 2012, to address the assembled meeting participants about her recent experiences.  Immediately following her remarks, the participants will confer a blessing upon Ms. Johnson, her partner, and their entire family.

“Barbara Johnson’s faith witness has been strong throughout this whole ugly incident,” said Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director. “We are honored and humbled that she will be with us for the Symposium, and we are sure that all will benefit greatly from her presence.”

The Seventh National Symposium takes place March 15-17, 2012, at the Renaissance Baltimore Innerharbor Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland.  Other major speakers are: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia; Richard Rodriguez, Pulitzer-nominated writer and commentator; Catholic theologians Patricia Beattie Jung and Luke Timothy Johnson.  For more information and to register, please click here.

You can refresh yourself on the details of Ms. Johnson’s story by reading Bondings 2.0‘s three reports about the event; you can access those posts, in chronological order, here, here, and here.  Ms. Johnson’s experience continues to make headlines.  Just this week, Allen Rose, president of Dignity/Washington, published an essay in DC’s Metro Weekly, a gay news magazine, which touched on this case to call on the Archdiocese of Washington to provide better pastoral care for LGBT people:

Allen Rose

“I believe that all of the national and international attention currently focused on the correct pastoral approach to LGBT Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington might create a grace-filled, teachable moment for this area’s LGBT Catholics, their bishops and priests.”

In calling for dialogue between LGBT Catholics and the archdiocesan administration, Rose suggests a variety of important and urgent topics that could be readily discussed:

“The following could be discussed: developing strategies to prevent bullying and anti-gay violence in Catholic schools, exploring ways to strengthen and expand the HIV/AIDS ministry, and forming a ministry throughout the archdiocese to support families with LGBT members.

“These and other pastoral questions demonstrate the systemic nature of the solutions that are required regarding pastoral care for LGBT Catholics. This would not be a forum to discus politics.”

New Ways Ministry has long-supported the idea of dialogue between church officials and LGBT Catholics, and we think that Rose’s proposal at this crucial time can turn a painful event into a turning point for good.  In addition to LGBT Catholics, we think this dialogue should also include parents of LGBT people and pastoral professionals involved in this ministry.  The time for such a dialogue is way overdue, and the story of Ms. Johnson’s painful experience has illustrated to the world the harmful results that delaying such a dialogue is causing.  We repeat what we and so many others have said about Ms. Johnson’s case: “Never again.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Habit of LGBT Equality

January 24, 2012

Over the past three years, nuns’ communities in the US have been “visited” by a Vatican appointee to assess their lives and missions.  Though the Vatican said that the reason for this visitation was the welfare of the sisters, Mary Johnson, a writer for Bloomberg.com and a former nun,  has another theory:  “American nuns frighten them.”

In an article entitled “Nuns in Street Clothing Shouldn’t Frighten Vatican,”Johnson examines how and why American nuns have been in the forefront of justice issues in society and in the church.  Singled out for special mention is a nun very dear to New Ways Ministry:

Sister Jeannine Gramick

“Liberal American sisters are courageous women. Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, continues to advocate for gay rights despite official church efforts to silence her.”

It’s no secret–though it’s not well-known, either–that high on the list of Catholic supporters of LGBT equality are nuns.  Communities of women religious have consistently been supportive of education, dialogue, and justice activities for LGBT people since the late 1970s.

After Vatican II, when nuns’ communities re-evaluated their charisms and ministries, they quickly realized that the church had long neglected lesbian/gay rights and that this was an issue that cried for justice.  They responded positively and actively.

Johnson’s article  highlights the reason that nuns can be so steadfast:

“American nuns don’t want to fight the official church, but neither are they likely to sacrifice the integrity of their consciences for the sake of peace.”

At New Ways Ministry,  we are indebted to our Sisters for financial, spiritual, and practical support over our 35 year history.  More New Ways Ministry programs have been held in convents and motherhouses than in any other type of Catholic facility by far.

Their support continues. For our upcoming Seventh National Symposium, 23 women’s religious groups have publicly endorsed the program.  20 more have provided financial and practical support for the program.  The success of the Symposium is always due to the great publicity and promotion of the event that sisters’ communities do for it. For all of our programs, the largest number of participants tend to be nuns.

The Catholic LGBT community–and New Ways Ministry, in particular–is deeply indebted to the Sisters of the church.  We should repay them with our undying support and with the greatest gift with which they have blessed us:  their unceasing prayer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Deadline Approaches for Discounted Symposium Registration

December 21, 2011

December 31, 2011, is the last day to register for New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium to receive a discount on registration fees.

Don’t miss this opportunity to sign up with a more than 15% savings for From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, which will bring together hundreds of Catholics who are eager to move forward the discussion of LGBT issues in their church.

And Symposium registrations make EXCELLENT last-minute Christmas gifts!  Surprise a friend or family member and bring them along with you to this event which has transformed hearts, minds, and communities!

The Symposium features internationally-known keynote speakers:  Luke Timothy Johnson, Patricia Beattie Jung, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Richard Rodriguez, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.   Complementing this line-up are focus sessions which cover some of the most important topics in Catholic LGBT conversations.

For more information on the Symposium, and to register today, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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