British Lesbian Bridges Gap Between Catholic and LGBT Communities

August 2, 2014

For this blog, which covers Catholic LGBT issues, we usually think of it as important news when an LGBT person achieves some positive recognition by a Catholic institution.   Today’s news is actually the inverse of that scenario: a Catholic person achieving recognition by an LGBT institution.

Ruth Hunt

Ruth Hunt, a practicing Catholic has been appointed as the new chief executive of Stonewall, the premier LGB equality organization in the United Kingdom.  London’s Independent reported that Hunt, who has been serving as acting chief executive for six months, has said that she is pledging to win over “hearts and minds” as part of her agenda.

PinkNews.co.uk reported that another item Hunt has mentioned to be on her radar screen is to be more in contact with the transgender community. Stonewall currently only works on lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues.  The news story quoted her comments:

“We’ve always spoken to trans groups – I have hosted round tables at Stonewall with trans groups, and there are a lot of conversations to be had with a lot of people who have strong opinions. . . .

Transgender activists in the UK have traditionally maintained their own equality agenda, but Paris Lees, a commentator, sees that Hunt may provide a good opportunity for building bridges:

“I understand that in the past prominent trans activists asked Stonewall to let trans people campaign on their own issues. I certainly understand that request, but we can’t ignore the fact that Stonewall is well funded, respected and professional, and I firmly believe there are many areas where we cannot separate combatting homophobia from transphobia. I look forward to the discussions that now look likely to happen happen between Stonewall and the trans community.

“I wish Ruth and Stonewall well, sadly we still need charities that fight prejudice.”

The Guardian noted Hunt’s faith perspective as important to her work:

“Hunt, who is a Catholic, said there were still many isolated gay people, including those with faith, throughout the country who needed support. ‘Some have gained more from these legislative changes than others,’ she said. ‘People living outside big cities people belonging to faith groups – I have been speaking to a young woman who is a committed Muslim and gay, and she can’t imagine speaking to her parents, never mind meeting a partner – there is still a lot to be done.’ “

In the recent past, Hunt has spoken out specifically on the pastoral care of lesbian and gay Catholics.  When London’s “Soho Masses” for LGBT people was moved to a different parish by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Hunt, who was then Stonewall’s public affairs director was quoted by the BBC:

“Given what’s happened over Christmas, where there were vitriolic and mean messages from the pulpit about same-sex marriage, there has never been a more important time to provide a safe space for gay Catholics to pray. . . .

“”The archbishop’s views on gay issues are well rehearsed and have nothing to do with the spirituality of some lesbian and gay people and their desire to express their faith.”

We extend our very best wishes and congratulations to Ms. Hunt, who is personally serving as a bridge between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Are You Better Off One Year After “Who Am I to Judge?”

July 30, 2014

Pope Francis

It has been a year since Pope Francis uttered those famous words which inspired so much hope in those Catholics who work, hope, and pray for LGBT equality and justice: “Who am I to judge?”  So, now a question for LGBT Catholics and their supporters: “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

Spoken on his plane ride home from World Youth Day in Brazil, the pope’s rhetorical question was stated in regard to gay priests.  But, as the year has worn on, many people began to see that the attitude expressed in those words reflected a new spirit in the papacy, especially with regard to LGBT issues.

That interpretation was confirmed when just little over a month later, Pope Francis, in a remarkably candid personal interview, said that church leaders should not be so “obsessed” with “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

The papacy’s new spirit was evidenced by the fact that throughout the year there seemed to be a lowering of the rhetoric that came from the Vatican in regard to same-gender marriage and LGBT people.  In Pope Francis’ statements about marriage there was a refreshing absence of references to the threat of marriage being redefined.  Indeed, a number of prelates, including Vatican officials, began speaking about the possibility of support for legalized civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Moreover, in the fall, it became public that the pope had written to Kairos, an LGBT Catholic group in Florence, Italy, in response to their letter to him.  And at the end of the year  the pope’s Jesuit parish in Rome even provided a free funeral for a homeless transgender woman when her family rejected her body.

All of this good news was magnified by the announcement in the later autumn that the pope was calling a synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family topics.  Better yet, the Vatican was encouraging bishops to survey the laity about their perspectives on this matter.  Indeed, a question about pastoral care of same-gender couples was listed as one of the issues on which the Vatican wanted lay input.

But to get back the original question:  “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For some, lingering question persisted throughout all the media hype surrounding Pope Francis’ approach:  Was all of this just window dressing?  Was this just a “kinder, gentler” Vatican that was still promoting the same negative message regarding LGBT people and issues?  When were the real changes going to happen? Style is one thing, but substance is another.

Over the past year, I’ve mentioned several times that I think that Pope Francis may not be ready to make big changes, but that he seems to be paving the way for such change in the future.  I still think that is true.  But, I’ve also come to think of these symbolic gestures by the pope in a new way lately.  I think that what he is trying to do is to send up some “test balloons” to see how people react to them.

I think the fact that so many bishops have spoken out in favor of civil unions or have had positive things to say about same-gender couples are proofs that the reactions have been somewhat good.  In fact, I’ve noticed that strongly negative statements about same-gender marriage now seem more the exception than the rule.

I admit, however, that American bishops have certainly not been the ones in the forefront of any positive trends.  We here in the United States still have to wait for some more positive changes in the episcopacy here.  San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone spoke at the March for Marriage in June, despite calls that he stay away from an event with many anti-gay sponsors.  The U.S. bishops opposed Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity and gender expression.  Prelates like Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput and Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Paprocki made some egregious statements regarding marriage.  In the U.S., we still have a long way to go in terms of better leadership on LGBT issues from our nation’s bishops.

But, of course, bishops are not the entire church.  We’ve also witnessed amazing demonstrations of LGBT support from Catholics this year, especially from younger Catholics who have had LGBT teachers fired from their schools.  We’ve seen Catholic politicians come out in strong support of marriage equality and gender identity non-discrimination.  One Illinois lawmaker even quoted Pope Francis when she expressed here support for that state’s marriage equality law.  Throughout the year, we’ve seen an incredible surge of LGBT support on the part of rank and file Catholics.  And many of them have been made more bold and optimistic because of Pope Francis’ statements and gestures.   Even non-Catholics like Edie Windsor, whose marriage equality case was successful at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and the editors of Time magazine  and The Advocate feel more positively toward the pope.

So, we still have a long way to go, but we should pause for a moment to reflect on how far we have come.

“Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For me, the answer is “yes!”

(What’s your answer?  Post your response to that question in the “Comments” section of this post.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


NEWS NOTES: July 28, 2014

July 28, 2014

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) LGBT Catholics in Chicago have been remembering the life and ministry of Jerry McEnany, the founder of that city’s Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach over 25 years ago.  A newspaper account of McEnany’s legacy described him as “a gay man who played a pivotal role in trying to bridge a gap between hierarchical harshness and doctrinal hostility to LGBTs among the faithful and a Church instinct for pastoral respect, compassion, and sensitivity in ministry with them.”

2) A transgender woman is suing Seton Medical Center, Daly City, California, because they denied her request for breast augmentation.  Charlene Hastings, who has already had gender reassignment surgery, stated, “I honestly believe that God has plans for me to have this surgery.”

3) Brian Cahill, former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities, published an essay on DignityUSA’s website in which he rebuts Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s arguments at last month’s March for Marriage in Washington, DC.

4) When an Indiana judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional according to the federal constitution, the Roman Catholic bishops of the state issued a statement which affirmed marriage between one man and one woman.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


African Bishops’ Meetings Reveal Underlying Assumptions About LGBT Issues

July 25, 2014

Two recent meetings of bishops’ conferences in Africa reveal some interesting insights about the way that LGBT issues are viewed by both the Vatican and by Catholic leaders on this continent.

Fr. Andrea Ciucci

In the Republic of the Congo’s capital, Brazzaville, the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACERAC) met and heard from  Fr. Andrea Ciucci, a staff member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  In discussing, marriage and the family, Fr. Ciucci explained that one of the biggest threats to this social unit is “gender theory.”  African human rights advocate and blogger Denis Nzioka posted a news story about Ciucci’s comments which described the priest’s position:

He explained that gender identity is an ”increasing problem” for the family in Africa, and is something that is not a natural phenomenon, but rather is being learned through technology and the internet.

“(T)his way of understanding life is not an African problem, but all young African people are connected to the internet, so the younger ones are listening to this” and seeing this “way of humanity, sexuality, and the relationship between a man a woman.”

Although the theory of the internet is “just a hypothesis,” the priest explained that questions regarding gender are very common in African youth, and  Church leaders there are “trying to understand this problem and how this culture of gender is penetrating in Africa and in the different generations of Africans.”

The news story did not elaborate on what Ciucci might have meant by the gender identity problem.  Could it mean new understandings of gender roles or perhaps the more controversial areas of transgender issues or same-sex relationships ?

A comment from Congo’s Cardinal Portella Mbouyou, who is the current chair of  ACERAC might elucidate Ciucci’s remarks.  In discussing marriage, he said:

‘it behooves on us to exercise our doctrinal and pastoral caution to the exogenous threats from the new world ethics which has the goal to deconstruct the moral order regarded as simple socio-cultural construction of an era without any natural basis and therefore likely to be modified at the mercy of desires and individuals, groups and generations.’

Mbouyou’s  quote seems to indicate that the conference is more concerned with the more controversial issues.

One thing that both Mbouyou’s and Ciucci’s comments reveal is an underlying assumption that ideas about sexuality are cultural imports.  Many scholars have pointed out that homosexuality was a part of African culture before Christian missionaries arrived, and that what was imported was not homosexuality, but homophobia.  The recent movements in Uganda and Nigeria to institute harsh penalties on lesbian and gay people have borne out this theory by the fact that it was American fundamentalist churches which fueled and funded the anti-gay ideology.

Bishops at the AMCEA meeting.

At the second African meeting, bishops who are members of the Association of Member Episcopal Conference in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) met in Lilongwe, Malawi, also discussed marriage and family issues, including a specific discussion of homosexuality, according to a news report on AllAfrica.com.

Fr. Andrew Kaufa, a communications officer of AMCEA, struck the note that homosexuality is an imported phenomenon to Africa:

“The church has observed that there are a number of challenges that many families from different African countries are facing which is affecting the preaching of the gospel.

“Many rich countries are imposing strange cultures in poor nations, an issue that calls for discussion and intervention,” Fr. Kaufa said.

He added: “As we try to search for solutions in regard to family matters, the Bishops will also pay attention to the issue of same sex which is at the helm.”

But the news report said that the discussion of homosexuality was “tabled,” which might mean that some bishops had disagreement about certain parts of the conversation.  Malawi, the meeting’s host nation, recently decided not to arrest gay people and to review its anti-gay laws, though homosexuality is still considered criminal in that country.  One of the other member nations of AMCEA is Uganda, which last year added draconian punishments for lesbian and gay people–measures which were implicitly supported by the country’s Catholic bishops.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Speaking at the AMCEA conference was Archbishop Vincent Paglia, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  (You can read the entire text of his talk here.)Paglia made headlines when he spoke favorably of legal protections for same-gender couples.

The archbishop highlighted the same theme that Ciucci mentioned at ACERAC,namely that one of the external forces impacting negatively on African families was the “ideology and theory of gender.”

Paglia also struck out at “individualism” as a threat to the family:

The question of marriage and the family is to be considered in the light of the “individualization” of contemporary society.  Over the last several centuries, we have seen the rise of subjectivity, which is in some ways a positive development because it has made possible the affirmation of the dignity of the individual, but excessive attention to the individual takes society down a dangerous path.  It seems that the “me” is everywhere prevailing over the “us,” and individual over society.

While it is interesting that nowhere in his talk did he mention same-gender relationships or homosexuality, this reference to “individualism,”  and later references to “relativism,” are sometimes used by church leaders as references to lesbian and gay perspectives.

On the other hand, in a long talk about marriage and family, there are very few references to reproduction as a feature of these relationships, which can be seen as moving away from that as a primary focus of the marital bond.

Transgender issues did not receive such a favorable treatment in Paglia’s talk.  Towards the end of his speech he again mentions “gender identity” as an evil, explaining:

“. . . there are a number of cultural and political questions that we cannot avoid, for example gender identity, that is, what does it mean today to be a man or a woman.  We need to be able to give a clear and convincing response to the elimination of sexual differentiation that is being proposed by the new “gender” culture prevailing today in all international contexts.”

Most interesting of all in my read of Paglia’s talk is that all of the positive things he says about marriage and family, all of the hopes families have, and all the challenges that families face, can easily be said about families with LGBT members in them.   When church leaders take off their heterosexist blinders, they will see that LGBT relationships and families are not threats to society, but equally valuable building blocks of our social life together.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

PinkNews.co.uk: “Malawi: Catholic conference to discuss ‘strange culture’ of homosexuality”

 


Catholic Schools To Recognize Students’ Chosen Gender Identities

July 18, 2014

Tracey Wilson, the impetus behind the Catholic schools’ transgender-inclusive policy change

In an historic policy, Catholic schools in the Canadian city of Vancouver will recognize transgender students using their preferred gender identity.

CBC News reports the policy, announced by the Archdiocese of Vancouver earlier this week, will allow trans students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as wear the uniform and use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Transgender students will be able to file for accommodations and work with a pastoral team of medical, spiritual, and educational experts to create  individualized plans for each student. However, due to official Catholic policy, the schools cannot support students who transition.

The change comes after Tracey Wilson, an 11-year-old transgender girl, filed a complaint against the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese for not allowing her to present as a girl. The Catholic school board settled with the Wilsons by implementing this new policy and paying an undisclosed sum to the family. The Wilsons say their children will remain in public schools. Superintendent Doug Lauson, who last year said ‘God doesn’t make mistakes‘ and that Tracey would have to wear the boys’ uniform, seemed pleased with the policy, which he views as a middle ground between supporting students and adhering to Catholic tradition.  Lausen stated:

“We are people of the Catholic faith. Our schools will be as inclusive as we can while still retaining our Catholic identity.”

Because Catholic schools in Canada are funded by the government, a history of religious exemption is not present.

CBC News reports that this new policy from a Catholic school board is making history, and there is hope it will impact more religiously-based schools:

” ‘This is, as far as we know, certainly a North American first and probably a world first,’ said the Wilson family’s lawyer, barbara findlay, who spells her name without capital letters.

” ‘Not only is it important for the students in Vancouver who go to Catholic schools, but it will serve as a template for other Catholic school districts everywhere.’ “

Tracey Wilson was one of two transgender students profiled by Canadian television program 16×9 last year, and at the time her mother, Michelle, said:

“They had no intention of letting her be who she wanted to be…Everyone says, ‘Well, what did you expect?’ I expected compassion. I expected a community that talks about love and acceptance to actually show love and acceptance.”

Though not freely chosen by the Vancouver archdiocese, this new policy is a huge step towards making Catholic schools into communities where love and acceptance are hallmarks. Tracey’s courage and her family’s willingness to call Catholic officials to account for their lack of inclusion will now mean Vancouver students who are transgender can be more authentically themselves, as God created them to be.

To view a video of Tracey and her mother talking about this recent victory, visit The Vancouver Sun by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

July 14, 2014

One of the places where Catholicism and gender are most strongly inscribed together is the area of vowed religious life.  There are communities for only men and other communities for only women.  What if your gender doesn’t fit into this binary?

Tia Michelle Pesando

That question is being answered in London, Ontario, where a transgender woman is preparing to enter a community of Carmelite women.  When Canada’s Tia Michelle Pesando, who is already living as a consecrated virgin, is accepted into the community, it is being said that she will be the world’s first transgender nun.

CTV News reported that Pesando, who is a hermaphrodite* (born with physical characteristics of both male and female) has already begun a process of taking hormones to live as a woman.  But the process of becoming a nun is more a spiritual, than a physical, notion for her.  As CTV News stated:

“Two years ago Pesando heard God calling her and she knew she had to take her transformation farther.

“ ‘I’m very convinced of the reality of God and the importance of such a calling,’ she says.

“When Pesando decided to become a nun, she received her priest’s blessing and is now going through the process to become a Carolinian sister and the first ever Roman Catholic transgender nun.

“ ‘I’m in the training process which is starting this August, so it’s a positive start that I’ve undergone.’ “

While there is always the possibility of hierarchical intervention in the admissions process,  Pesando remains positive:

“ ‘Forgiveness needs to begin somewhere,” she says. “It needs to begin with us, all of us, those in the LGBT community and those of the Christian faith.’

“Pope Francis has made huge strides with the gay community, preaching for greater inclusion and acceptance of homosexuals. This in part has helped to fuel her decision. She says the time is right for a transgender nun.”

Pesando recently published a book, Why God Doesn’t Hate Youin which she develops the theme of God’s unconditional acceptance and love of everyone, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In a wide-ranging interview with London Community News  where she describes her spiritual development and challenges,  she also explained the need for the book’s message:

“ ‘From a theological perspective, I think I have a solid argument,’ Pesando said. ‘People are leaving the church because they feel the God of love has betrayed them, and betrayal is one of the worst feelings you can imagine. So I am reaching out to people saying this is what the Bible actually says.’

“Her purpose in writing Why God Doesn’t Hate You is to reach out to everyone ‘who feels like they are rejected by God, who feels like they are a second-class citizen in God’s eyes.’ ”

And she notes an interesting detail about the Bible:

“ ‘There is actually nothing in the Bible to condemn the trans community because they were simply not aware of it,’ Pesando said. ‘Just like there is nothing in the Bible that talks about aerospace engineering, both of these things were discovered about 1,500 years after the it was written.’ ”

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The same is true about constitutional homosexuality.  Biblical authors did not have the awareness that some people are naturally homosexually oriented.  Therefore, in the places where homosexual acts are Biblically condemned, the authors are not condemning what is now known to be a natural, normal way of loving.  More often, they are condemning homosexual rape, pagan rituals, or sexual novelty.)

My only minor gripe with this story is not about Pesando’s eligibility to become a nun, but the claim that some have made that she will be “the world’s first transgender nun.”  I would probably want to modify that to “the world’s first OPENLY transgender nun.”   Though I have no historical evidence, I imagine that over the centuries, other transgender women have joined convents, though probably being secretive about their identities.   We do know that transgender characteristics have often been very accepted in Catholic spirituality and practice (St. Joan of Arc).  And it was always common practice for nuns to take male religious names, and for religious men to often add “Mary” or “Marie” to their religious names.

If you know of other examples of Catholic transgender history or cultural details, please add them in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

*There has been some discussion in the “Comments” section of this blog as to whether “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” is the correct word to use.  There has also been some discussion as to whether Tia Michelle Pesando is actually transgender.  I recognize that language is a sensitive and powerful arena, and I am open to correction.  Upon reflection, I have decided to keep the original terms I used.

To answer the first issue, I have used “hermaphrodite” because that is the term that Tia Michelle Pesando uses to describe herself on her website: http://www.whygoddoesnthateyou.com/.   It is also the term used in the original article upon which this post is based, so I have assumed that it was the term she used while being interviewed.

To answer the second issue,  because Tia Michelle Pesando lived the first thirty years as a man and has now decided to live as a woman, including taking hormones, I think it is accurate to describe the process she went through as “transitioning,” and thus “transgender” seems to be an accurate description.  Again, I assume, based on the fact that news articles about her use the term “transgender” that this is a label of which she approves.

 

 

 

 


Trans Students Celebrate Openly During Catholic Graduations

June 22, 2014

Two moments this graduation season highlighted the positive gains being made in Catholic education for transgender students, forgoing the controversies of past years for moments of celebration instead.

Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, an all-girls institution run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, allowed a transgender young man to graduate using his preferred gender identity. A post in the Facebook group for the class of 1970 includes the following caption for the above picture:

“Meet our alumni brother. This was not an easy decision for the administrators to make, but they did the right thing as Immaculate Heart does. {He] is the first transgender graduate but probably won’t be the last. He loves the school as much as the rest of us and that’s all that matters. ‘Every loyal daughter and son…’ “

Congratulations to this young man and to the Immaculate Heart Class of 2014, as well as the administrators for ensuring every student’s day could be one of celebration! Last year, a controversy at a New Mexico Catholic high school tarred commencement ceremonies when a transgender student was given the choice either to wear attire inconsistent with his gender or skip graduation altogether.  He chose the latter.

At the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, a transgender woman was chosen by her peers to address the graduating class of social workers. Andy Bowen spoke openly to an audience at the US bishops’ national university about her identity as a trans woman engaged to another woman and addressed her fellow students on the social worker’s duty to seek justice. She said, in part:

“Maybe it is because I’m a transgender woman who is engaged to another woman and I’ve had to come out of the closet like three or four times, but I’ve always been attracted to the principle that all human beings have inherent human dignity…

“If you center your moral universe on the idea that all human beings have inherent dignity, you have to work against injustice in all its forms because someone much smarter than me, living many decades ago pointed out how injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Congratulations to Andy and the CUA class of 2014! You can view her full remarks below or by clicking here.

While these two examples show progresss, there is still a lot of work to be done on Catholic campuses concerning transgender people. LGBT advocate and musician Joanna Blackhart recently spoke with HuffPost Live about her isolating experience attending St. Mary’s College in Texas as a transgender woman.

Let’s hope the examples of increased welcome and acceptance for trans inclusivity  on Catholic campuses continue to spread!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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