Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Decisions Continue to Pour In

June 27, 2013

The euphoria over yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality is continuing unabated by Catholics and LGBT advocates.

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Perhaps the most amazingly Catholic quotation from the decisions was the phrase written by Catholic Justice Anthony Kennedy in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, released the following statement yesterday:

 

Equally Blessed Logo“As members of the Catholic Church and citizens of the United States, we are elated that the U. S. Supreme Court has both struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for marriage equality in the state of California. We are especially pleased to see that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote the opinion striking down DOMA, and that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is also a Catholic, concurred in this historic decision.

“While we would have preferred the Court to find the California law prohibiting same-sex marriage to be clearly unconstitutional, in dismissing the case, the Court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in that state.

“Catholics around the country have worked hard to pass legislation that permits same-sex couples to marry, and protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. They have done so not in spite of their faith, but because of it, knowing that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and that all of God’s children must be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.

“The court today has removed two obstacles blocking the path to justice for same-sex couples, but that path must still be walked. So today we celebrate and offer prayers of thanksgiving, and tomorrow we invite our fellow Catholics to join us in working to bring marriage equality to the states in which it has not yet been written into law.”

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

Both the National Catholic Reporter and Whispers In the Loggia reported on reactions from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other marriage equality opponents.

Bryan Cones, on U.S. Catholic’s blog wondered if the Supreme Court decisions will persuade the bishops to tone down their campaign against marriage equality and instead engage in dialogue with LGBT people:

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones

“I for one would hope for a kind of pause on the bishops’ approach to this question: It should be obvious now that, on the civil side of things, same-sex couples have convinced Americans that they deserve access to the civil benefits of marriage. We in the church need to be having our own conversations about the religious institution of marriage and the religious meaning of human sexuality–long a monologue from the hierarchy that has not included the voices of lay people, married, single, gay, bisexual, or straight. Our own deliberations may lead us to new conclusions, or it may lead to a reaffirmation of old ones. But the signs of the times, today’s rulings included, demand our common discernment. “

Catholics United’s blog, Our Daily Threadcarried a post by Daniel Byrne in which he challenged the USCCB’s characterization of the decisions as “tragic”:

“It further upsets me that you call these decisions “tragic.” What’s tragic is that 23% of children live in poverty. What’s tragic are the natural disasters occurring because of climate change. What’s tragic is that Guantanamo Bay is still open (thanks to Bishop Pates for hisstatement, by the way). Providing equal rights for same-sex spouses is not tragic.

“Let’s be clear, this is a civil rights issue. No longer will same-sex spouses be turned away from seeing their partner in a hospital. No longer will binational couples be separated because their marriage isn’t recognized in the US. No longer will another 1,100 rights be denied same-sex spouses.”

Jamie Manson, writing on HuffingtonPost.com, tells the story of a group of Catholic LGBT advocates from Dignity/New York, who helped bring the DOMA case to court by supporting the plaintiff, Edith Windsor:

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor

“As millions celebrate today the Supreme Court’s striking down of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many will be giving thanks to Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the case, and her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.

“What most people will not know, however, is the instrumental role that a few members of the New York City chapter of DignityUSA played in this historic moment.”

You can read the inspiring story here.  Or you can see a synopsis and link to an earlier version of this story from The National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Manson concludes her essay with some hopeful words, which reflect the mood of yesterday’s and today’s exuberance:

“To paraphrase Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted aphorism, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Catholics can change the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Contradictions in Catholic LGBT Teaching and Practice

September 14, 2012

 

 

Contradictions in hierarchical attitudes towards LGBT issues and people were the theme of two commentaries this week from Catholic writers.

Bryan Cones

The first piece is a blog post from Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, entitled “Can ‘respect, sensitivity, and compassion’ go with ‘instrinsic disorder’ when it comes to gay Catholics?”

Commenting on three recent news stories–the Worcester Diocese refusing to sell a mansion to a gay couple, the Connecticut priest reprimanded for assisting at his cousin’s wedding, the Franciscan University of Steubenville course which labels homosexuality as “deviant behavior”–Cones reflects on a contradiction that is at the heart of all three cases:

“Every Catholic institution when faced with these controversies (usually of their own creation) will parrot the line from the Catechism that ‘homosexual persons’ must be treated with ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity,’ then go on to justify any behavior on the basis that a homosexual sexual orientation is an ‘objective disorder.’ Anyone else see the conflict? I don’t think any gay person in these situations (or their family members in the case of the priest at his cousin’s union ceremony) feel treated with ‘respect, compassion, or sensitivity.’

“Catholic teaching is of two minds on this question: On the one hand it upholds the fundamental dignity of every human being, each of whom is made in God’s image and likeness. On the other it insists that a small but consistent subset of human beings are unusually marked by sin in their created sexuality. Inevitably church institutions–Franciscan University, the Diocese of Worcester–get tangled up in in the conflict by clumsy people who try to say both things at the same time and end up embarrassing themselves and their institutions.

“The problem is, the two teachings really don’t go together, and the sooner we all realize that and agree to it, the sooner we will be able to find a new and hopefully more lifegiving way to talk about sexuality and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in particular.”

Richard Giannone

The second piece is a Huffington Post blog entry from Fordham University Professor Richard Giannone entitled “True and False Religious Freedom.”  Reflecting on the marriage equality and religious liberty debate, Giannone notes:

“Liberty for the bishops is a synonym for power and control, their power, their control. They aim to impose unquestioned submission to their self-styled rectitude. Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights. Such unchristian Christianity adds a new type of suffering on LGBT people.

“I am a 78-year-old man gay man who is a practicing Catholic. The older I get, the more clearly I see how official church teaching on sexuality presents a false idea of freedom and misconstrues Christianity. As in scripture, intolerance in daily life binds and traps. Subjugation comes early. Ecclesiastical homophobia burdens a LGBT child with recrimination and shackles the child in religious censure. Prejudice effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with Cones’ assessment that there is a deep tension between these two aspects of official church teaching.  While one stresses the importance of having positive behaviors towards gay and lesbian people, the other presents a strongly negative judgment about their sexual orientation.

I believe that church leaders are aware of this tension.  The problem, however, is that to resolve the tension, they favor the negative judgment over the positive behaviors.  There is no reason why it can’t be the other way around.

I think that Giannone poignantly describes the problem that such negative judgment produces.  It produces a prejudicial attitude that “effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with him that “Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights.” Christian leaders should always be mindful of the paradox that they live as leaders since Jesus, their model, was certainly critical of institutional religious leaders who used theological principles to burden and oppress people.  Institutional authority creates a conundrum for Christian leaders that often encourages arrogance when it should inspire humility.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


ALL ARE WELCOME: An Open Door Policy for Catholic Schools

July 15, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

The August issue of U.S. Catholic magazine has an essay entitled “Leave no child behind: Catholic schools should accept everyone.”  As the title suggests, the author is proposing that Catholic schools not refuse admission to anyone, including children who come from non-traditional families.

Fr. Bill Tkachuk, the author, is pastor of St. Nicholas Parish and co-pastor of Pope John XXIII School in Evanston, Illinois.  He uses as starting point the case where the Boston archdiocese overruled a parish school’s exclusion of a child because the family was headed by a lesbian couple.  Fr. Tkachuk rightly praises the archdiocese’s decision and their subsequent policy statement that “Our schools welcome and do not discriminate against or exclude any categories of students.”

The essay makes a beautiful case for inclusion, however, one of its arguments rubs the wrong way.  Fr. Tkachuk uses a Gospel example to make the case for inclusion, which, unfortunately, implies some of the judgmental attitude that he is trying to eradicate:

“The call of the apostle Matthew challenges the status quo of his time (Matt. 9:9-13). Jesus calls Matthew to follow him when he is still practicing the sinful act of collecting taxes for the Romans. Matthew responds by hosting a dinner to which he invites other practicing ‘sinners'; he then brings Jesus to meet the group he has gathered.

“When the religious authorities grumble that Jesus is associating with the ‘unclean,’ Jesus responds by clarifying the mission of God’s kingdom, saying, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus soon names Matthew (still called ‘the tax collector’) as one of the 12 apostles. In the roots of what will become the institutional church, Jesus balances the call to ongoing conversion with tolerance of imperfections.”

Fr. Tkachuk’s heart seems to be in the right place, but the use of this example seems to imply a patronizing approach toward people whose lives are not in accord with the church’s teaching.  I don’t think it is Fr. Tkachuk’s intention to label such people “sinners.”  Indeed he uses the word “sinners” in quotation marks to indicate that while they may be considered so by some people, that may not actually be the truth.  Yet his use of the scriptural example and the term can be offensive to some of his readers.

That said, I think that the main point of his essay–not to exclude any child on the basis of family background–is a good one.  His reasons include:

“Each family who becomes part of a Catholic school community, each man or woman who teaches or volunteers, and every principal or priest who serves in a Catholic school needs God’s healing in each and every moment. We strive to follow the call of Jesus, but we are imperfect witnesses to the faith. The most powerful witness that we offer our children is that we strive to grow in the understanding and practice of our faith and are willing to admit our imperfections and seek God’s grace.

“I am not suggesting that a member of a Catholic school community has the right to contradict church teaching and create disharmony or confusion. I am suggesting that any adult who supports the religious curriculum that is presented in a Catholic school is on a path to holiness, regardless of what I know or presume to know about his or her personal life.”

Importantly, Fr. Tkachuk’s argument offers a way for how church officials can deal with similar situations such as employing a person involved in a public, committed lesbian or gay relationship.  His argument shows that church leaders have to start dealing with such new realities in new ways:

“Some parents have expressed a concern that the lifestyle of a ‘non-traditional’ family will confuse their child. They have asked how to teach tolerance for others while also teaching Catholic values. I believe that learning to deal with these tensions will help in a variety of situations in which the values we teach conflict with the perceived behaviors of relatives, neighbors, friends, and public figures. This is part of being Catholic in a pluralistic culture.

“Those who would attempt to certify parents as ‘sufficiently Catholic’ based on a preconceived list of perceived faults place us all on a very slippery slope. Do we extend this judgment to our business practices, our treatment of neighbors and extended family, our stewardship of creation, our generosity to the poor, or other aspects of our behavior? If so, then who will be left in our Catholic schools?”

Accompanying Fr. Tkachuk’s essay, U.S. Catholic also published an essay by Tina Herman, a parent, describing her reasons why she belieives Catholic schools should be inclusive, including the following:

“A school that discriminates agains gays and lesbians is sending a message to the very children it serves. These are institutions that preach morality and say we’re all God’s children. What does turning away children based on something out of their control say to other kids, who very well might be gay themselves? Thankfully, the events out of Boulder and Boston are isolated incidents.

“I live in a large metropolitan city in a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhood, and I prefer my son’s future classroom to reflect that makeup. At his current day care, he hangs out with kids who are black and white, Middle Eastern and Hispanic, adopted kids and kids with two dads. That is his “normal;” it’s what he knows. We are surrounded by expensive private schools that tout academic excellence (for preschoolers), but my husband and I think it’s important for our son to be around kids who don’t necessarily look like him, have the same family makeup as he does, or even the same income. We can all learn from each other’s differences–and that’s the best education.”

Catholic schools, like Catholic parishes, should be known for their ability to welcome and accept everyone who comes to their doors.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:

Say the Words, December 14, 2011

All in the Family , January 2, 2012

At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012

A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome,  February 13, 2012

Going Beyond the Boundaries, April 11, 2012

St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry, May 24, 2012

When Homophobes Attack, June 7, 2012

 

 


Fortunate Families Focus & LGBT Timeline Round Out U.S. Catholic Coverage

February 25, 2012

As mentioned on this blog the other day, the March issue of U.S. Catholic magazine has an excellent article, “Pride and Prejudice: The uneasy relationship between gays and lesbians and their church,” surveying the landscape of LGBT issues in Catholicism.

Two sidebar pieces that accompanied this article are also worthy of note.  The first, “The mamas and the papas: What it’s like for Catholic parents of GLBT children,” explains exactly what it’s title describes.  To accomplish this task, writer Kristen Hannum went to the leading national experts on this topic, Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT sons and daughters.

Fortunate Families co-founder Mary Ellen Lopata talks about the need for outreach ministry to parents in an ever-increasing rigid Catholic atmosphere:

“The church has lost so much in not welcoming our gay and lesbian children. They have left the church in droves because they are not welcomed. They can stay if they’re silent, suppressing a big part of who they are. Now the church is starting to lose their parents as well.”

Fortunate Families board member Deb Word highlights the importance of being clear and unconditional in expressing the church’s welcome:

“We have to start by acknowledging that there are GLBT kids in the pews, and that God loves them. . . . ‘God loves you, but . . .’ is different from ‘God loves you.’ ”

(Fortunate Families co-founders, Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, wrote a Bondings 2.0 blog post last month on the importance of welcoming parents of LGBT people in Catholic settings.  You can access it by clicking here.)

The main article’s other sidebar is “A history of the relationship between gay and lesbian Catholics and their church.”   The piece is a historical timeline, mapping the ups and downs of the Catholic LGBT movement from the late 1960s to the current day.  It is inspiring to see how far this movement has matured, how many struggles it has faced, and how many accomplishments it has achieved!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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