Archbishop Apologizes for Predecessor’s Insensitivity to Lesbians and Gays

June 25, 2013

The archbishop of New Orleans made a short statement recently that speaks volumes about how far the Catholic Church–and the greater society–has come in the past 40 years with regard to LGBT issues.

UpStairs Lounge after the fire.

UpStairs Lounge after the fire.

This past weekend marked the 40th anniversary of a fatal fire in a New Orleans gay bar, The UpStairs Lounge, that claimed the lives of 32 people, and dozens more critically injured.  Because it was started by arson, the event is considered the largest mass murder of gay people in U.S. history, according to The Daily Mail.  

In 1973, Archbishop Phillip Hannan, the powerful head of the New Orleans archdiocese, did not say a word about the tragedy, not even an expression of sympathy and support for victims and families.  Neither did New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu, and many other city leaders.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

40 years later Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans has issued an apology for the church’s silence in 1973.   In an email to Time  magazine, which recently carried a story about the fire, Archbishop Aymond stated:

“In retrospect, if we did not release a statement we should have to be in solidarity with the victims and their families. The church does not condone violence and hatred. If we did not extend our care and condolences, I deeply apologize.”

A simple statement, but one that reflects how much times have changed.  Other details of the event recall the oppressive environment that gay and lesbian people suffered just 40 years ago.  According to The Daily Mail:

“Out of fear and shame, some family members of the deceased refused to claim the ashes of their ‘loved’ ones.

A plaque  that is now  at the site of what was the Upstairs Lounge in 1973.

A plaque that is now at the site of what was the UpStairs Lounge in 1973.

“On the issue of identifying the victims, Major Henry Morris, a detective with the New Orleans Police Department said, ‘We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.’

“Churches were either silent or subtly suggested the victims deserved what they got, most refused the use of their facilities for a memorial service.

“Father Bill Richardson of St. George’s Episcopal Church, however, believed the dead should have a service.

“He graciously allowed, over the protest of many parishioners, the use of St. George’s sanctuary for a prayer service, which was attended by roughly 80 people.

“He was subsequently chastised by his bishop and received no small amount of hate mail. Days later a Unitarian Church also held a small memorial service.

“A larger service was held on July 1 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on the edge of the French Quarter.”

In addition to the current archbishop making up for the errors of one of his predecessors, the current mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, is making for the negligence of the former mayor who was his father by issuing a commemorative proclamation.

While we pray for the victims and their families at this sad milestone, we pray in gratitude for Archbishop Aymond’s acknowledgement and apology.  We pray, too, that the entire Catholic Church–hierarchy and laity–will work together so that events like this tragic one will never happen again.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Theologian Challenges Pax Christi to Embrace LGBT Equality and Justice

June 20, 2013

This past weekend, my New Ways Ministry colleague Bob Shine and I attended the national conference of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic organization which promotes peace, justice, and non-violence.  We had an exhibit booth there for New Ways Ministry, distributing our materials about LGBT ministry and equality.

Father Bryan Massingale

Father Bryan Massingale

With Bishop Thomas Gumbleton as the opening keynoter and Father Bryan Massingale, a Marquette University theologian who specializes in social ethics, as the closing plenary speaker, the three days of meetings were book-ended by great inspiration.

For me, and for many of the participants, the highlight of the weekend came during Fr. Massingale’s talk in which he laid out a number of ways that Pax Christi USA can become more relevant to today’s Catholics, and more effective in church and society.  His final recommendation was that Pax Christi USA needed to start addressing LGBT equality and justice if they want to remain a credible and vibrant voice for peace and justice.  He stated:

“If Pax Christi USA is to remain relevant and on the frontier as a Catholic movement of peacemaking with justice, it must intentionally welcome people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.”

Massingale acknowledged that this might be a “neuralgic and sensitive” issue for some in the organization, but he offered two reasons why he recommended it.  The first was demographics:

“For the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue.”

He noted a survey of young people from 2009 in which the four top descriptors of religious institutions were:  “intolerant,” “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “homophobic.”   He added:

“For young people, the litmus test of the credibility of a religious institution is their stances on LGBT rights.”

The second reason, Massingale suggested, was the justice and human rights argument:

“Around the world, people are humiliated, tortured, raped, exiled, imprisoned, and executed for who they are and how they love.  The most notorious case is going on in Uganda with the so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ bill. . . In South Africa, women who identify as lesbian are subjected to a practice called  ‘corrective rape’ where they are gang raped by men in order to change them from their ‘sinful tendencies.’ “

Massingale added that “we don’t need to go overseas,” mentioning the series of murders classified as gay hate crimes in New York City during May 2013.  He noted mournfully:

“And these hate crimes, these brutal murders were met by a deafening, appalling silence from Catholic leaders.”

Massingale summed up this section of his talk with moral principles that are deep in Catholic theology:

“Whatever disagreements one may have with someone’s conduct, their fundamental human rights are inalienable and God-given.

“These human rights must be protected and defended without compromise or ambiguity.  This is not political correctness.  This is the Gospel.”

An audio recording of Fr. Massingale’s entire talk is available on the Pax Christi USA website.  A news story about the entire conference can be found on The National Catholic Reporter website.

My experience at the weekend conference tells me that Pax Christi members were well-disposed to receive Fr. Massingale’s challenge.  The part of his talk that dealt with LGBT issues was interrupted several times by loud, approving applause.   At New Ways Ministry’s exhibit table, we were busy all weekend talking with Pax Christi members who are extremely supportive of LGBT issues.  Indeed, we returned home practically empty-handed, having distributed almost all of our materials.  We were afraid we would run-out!

Pax Christi USA already has a precedent for taking on LGBT issues.  In 1998, the organization partnered with New Ways Ministry to produce a full-page signature advertisement in the New York Times, in response to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming.  Close to 2,000 Catholics, including nine bishops, signed the statement entitled, “A Catholic Pledged to End Violence Against Lesbian and Gay People.”

But, of course, Fr. Massingale’s message is one that not only needed to be delivered to Pax Christi, but to the entire church.

New Ways Ministry thanks PaxChristiUSA for hosting us at their conference and for providing a platform for Fr. Bryan Massingale’s passionate and prophetic talk.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


Catholic Leaders Should Oppose Violence, not Marriage Equality, in France

April 20, 2013

Though debates about marriage equality here in the United States can become quite heated at times, in France the discussion of this topic has inspired warnings about violence, threats of violence, and violence itself.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois

The latest episode in this regard has been the Archbishop Of Paris’ warning that if marriage equality becomes law,  society may erupt with violent protests.  According to a Reuters news report:

“Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois told a meeting of French bishops the planned marriage reform, which the government has speeded up amid mounting pressure from opponents, was a sign that society had lost its capacity to integrate different views. . . .

” ‘This is the way a violent society develops,’ he told the spring meeting of the French bishops’ conference. ‘Society has lost its capacity of integration and especially its ability to blend differences in a common project.’ “

Unfortunately, the cardinal’s argument contains something of a paradox.  While he complains about marriage equality causing a loss of integration and the blending of differences, he fails to realize that by not providing marriage for gay and lesbian couples, the nation already severely hampers integration and blending of differences.

On the secular side, a leader of the anti-marriage equality movement also warned of violence this week.  LGBTQNation reports that Frigide Barjot, a French comic who is a leader in the movement against marriage equality commented on the French Senate’s passage of the bill and the decision to now move the debate to the National Assembly:

“This is a disgrace. The French people don’t want this law, and what do they do? They speed up its passage. (French President Francois) Hollande wants blood, and he will get it. We live in a dictatorship. The President of the Republic has guillotined us.”

Such rhetoric only incites the already violent motivations of some protesters.  PinkNews.co.uk reports:

“On Wednesday thousands of protesters swarmed in Paris to voice their opposition to the bill, with some attacking cars and public property, and lashing out at police and journalists, reports France24.

“11 people from the protest were detained for questioning, while 24 pro-equal marriage counter-protesters were arrested, according to police.

During the night four men were detained after they attacked a gay bar in Lille, injuring the manager and causing property damage.

Similarly, LGBTQNation.com reports:

“Earlier in the week, gay rights activists pointed to last weekend’s attack on a gay couple in Paris as evidence of their claim that homophobic acts have tripled nationwide over opposition to the marriage equality law.

“Wilfred De Bruijn was beaten unconscious near his home early Sunday in central Paris, sustaining five fractures in his head and face, abrasions and a lost tooth.”

Catholic leaders in France would do better to forthrightly condemn such acts of violence, instead of simply warning that violence may be an outcome.  Warning about violence seems designed to inspire fear about the marriage equality bill, which the French bishops oppose.  But warning about possible future violence is a weak response if there is no condemnation of the violence which is already occurring during this debate.  Catholic leaders should be peacemakers, not fear-mongers.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


‘You Shall Love Your LGBT Neighbor As Yourself’

October 18, 2012

Tomorrow is Spirit Day, sponsored by GLAAD, to take a stand against anti-LGBT violence and  bullying among youth. LGBT supporters worldwide will wear purple and promote #SpiritDay on social media as a show of solidarity. Noted Jesuit priest  and author James Martin wrote a blog post for America magazine earlier this week on why participation by Catholics is important, entitled ‘Why Not Wear Purple on Friday?

Citing statistics from the Trevor Project  and US Department of Justice officials, Fr. Martin highlights thatLGBT youth are at a vastly increased risk for suicide attempts, family rejection, and bullying in schools. He encouraged Catholic participation in Spirit Day:

“This should be a no-brainer for Catholics, who are called by Christ to support those who suffer or struggle in any way, particularly those on the margins.

“This is an especially relevant issue for Catholics who support traditional families…For Catholics overall it is an opportunity to demonstrate their ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’ for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and thus heed the call of the Catechism.  (There’s even a site for Catholics supporting the initiative.)  And when we’re talking about suicide, we’re talking about a ‘life issue.'”

James Martin, SJ

Martin even responds to Catholics objecting to Spirit Day and similar initiatives because of an implied endorsement of organizations that oppose official Catholic teaching. He reminds Catholics that it is important to act against injustices, even if partners do not agree on all aspects, because the alternative of waiting for perfection means halting progress. Martin speaks to the heart of Catholic participation in Spirit Day:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.

“So why not do something simple to show compassion for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, especially those who are bullied or who have even attempted suicide? Purple is a penitential color, the color of remorse, and so it is particularly appropriate as a sign of remorse over any LBGT hate speech.  Why do something small to show your love of neighbor?”

Those of us at New Ways Ministry will be wearing purple tomorrow to publicly witness against the bullying, violence, and hate speech that harm so many LGBT youth and New Ways Ministry hopes you will join in taking a stand because, as Fr. Martin writes:

“You shall love your LGBT neighbor as yourself.”

Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Ignorance Leads to Dutch Catholic Castration Atrocity

March 25, 2012

I hate to report sickening news.  When I do, I try at least to find some important lesson in the story that I think will provide readers with possibility for making improvements in the world.

For several days I have tried to find some such possibility in the horrific story out of the Netherlands that in the 1950s, Catholic Church officials approved of the castration of 11 boys in church-run psychiatric institutions, as a method to cure homosexuality.  (According to a news report in The New York Times, there may also be some evidence that castration was used to punish youths for reporting sexual abuse by priests.)  Very little possibility for improvement exists in such a story.

If these revelations were not sickening enough, it was also reported that the commission that the Catholic church established to investigate sexual abuse by priests was told of these incidents, but decided not to include any reference to them in its 1,100 page report last year.

The lastest development, reported in an online story by U.S. Catholic is that church officials have condemned these acts and promised to cooperate in an investigation:

“The Dutch church has pledged to fully cooperate with investigations into reported claims that Catholic institutions castrated boys and young men in their care to rid them of homosexuality.

“Bert Elbertse, spokesman for the Dutch Catholic bishops’ conference, said the bishops found the reports ‘shocking and appalling’ and that they ‘condemn and regret such practices in the strongest possible terms.’

A further comment by Elbertse reveals how truly low the reputation of Catholic officials has sunk:

“Our church has been badly damaged by accusations of sexual abuse. The fact that people were unsurprised by these latest claims suggests our image couldn’t get any worse.”

Elbertse also tried to explain the castration decisions by saying

“Although the initial public reactions to this newspaper report were very negative, many people are now asking whether the use of castration had more to do with health care at the time than with the church.”

Such an explanation rings terribly hollow, especially in view of a further explanation offered by the Dutch Catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad.   According to the U.S. Catholic story, this Dutch Catholic newspaper

“. . . said records suggested about 400 men were castrated in the Netherlands between 1938 and 1968. The newspaper said castration and electric shock treatment also were used ‘not uncommonly’ on gay men at state-owned institutions in Britain and Scandinavia.

“There was no specific link with Catholicism. Indeed, Catholics and Protestants were against the use of castration as a blow to the integrity of the body.”

One has to wonder how seriously Catholic officials thought of the integrity of the bodies of young men suspected of homosexuality if these same leaders allowed the youths  to be castrated.

If there is any lesson to be learned from this story, I think it is that ignorance about homosexuality naturally leads to atrocity.  While church officials participating in investigations of these incidents is helpful, a better and more effective step would be for them to educate themselves about  scientific knowledge about the realities of sexual orientation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


When Will the Pope Speak Out, Too?

March 4, 2012

Dr. Rowan Williams

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, has “called upon nations to respect the human rights of homosexuals in countries where they are often targeted for violence, as he suggested that anti-gay legislation is akin to racial discrimination,” according to a report just published in Christian Today.  He made his remarks in a speech to the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

Such a strong call from a high-ranking international church official begs the question of when Pope Benedict XVI will also speak out against these human rights abuses. Williams has offered arguments that can easily be spoken by a Roman Catholic official.  The news report quotes Williams:

” ‘Many societies would now recognise that legal interference with some sorts of consensual sexual conduct can be both unworkable and open to appalling abuse (intimidation and blackmail),’ Dr Williams said.

” ‘The existence of laws discriminating against sexual minorities as such can have no justification in societies that are serious about law itself.

” ‘Such laws reflect a refusal to recognise that minorities belong, and they are indeed comparable to racial discrimination.’

“Dr Williams emphasised that concern for protection of gays and lesbians from violence and intimidation did not imply approval of homosexual behaviour on moral grounds.

” ‘This concern for protection from violence and intimidation can be held without prejudging any moral question; religion and culture have their own arguments on these matters.

” ‘But a culture that argues about such things is a culture that is able to find a language in common.

” ‘Criminalise a minority and there is no chance of such a language in common or of any properly civil or civic discussion.’ “

The Catholic Church has been shamefully reticent about human rights abuses against LGBT people.  The situation in Uganda, in which Catholics are the largest denomination (42%) and recently tried to institute the death penalty for homosexuals, should be particularly relevant for the pope.

Now is the time for Pope Benedict, the Vatican, and Catholic leaders in countries where human rights abuses exist to speak powerfully about the Church’s teaching on the respect for the human dignity of LGBT people.  If extreme cases such as these don’t warrant such a statement, then the teaching is meaningless.

Bondings 2.0 has already reported on the Uganda situation twice and each time has called on Catholic leaders to speak out for the rights of LGBT people. You can connect to the previous posts, “A Gay Catholic in Uganda Speaks. . .” and “Breaking the Catholic Silence on LGBT Human Rights Violations.”  Also relevant would be our post “How Catholic Was Clinton’s Speech?”

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry


Who’s to Blame if Gay Priests Arranged for Hitmen to Kill Them?

February 17, 2012

Rev. Rafael Reatiga and Rev. Richard Piffano

The Associated Press reported an unusual story out of Colombia, South America, as allegations arose this week that two gay priests there who were killed last year were not the victims of a robbery, but had hired the gunmen to kill the both of them.

The strange details of the case suggest that suicide may have been the motive:

“Rev. Rafael Reatiga asked his parishioners to pray for him and gave the choirmaster a list of songs for his funeral shortly before he was found shot to death together with another Roman Catholic priest, a Colombian prosecutor said Tuesday.

“Authorities initially suspected robbery when Reatiga’s body was found along with that of Rev. Richard Piffano, 37, in a car in southern Bogota on Jan. 27, 2011.

“But on Tuesday prosecutor Ana Patricia Larrota said investigators had determined that it was suicide by hitmen in the year-old case: the two priests hired gunmen to kill them after Reatiga discovered he had AIDS.

“The priests gave members of a criminal gang the equivalent of $8,500, said the chief investigator of the prosecutor’s office, Maritza Gonzalez, as two of the four alleged assassins appeared before a judge for processing.”

Reatiga also supposedly had syphilis, and witnesses say that he was often seen in gay establishments in Bogota, the capital city.

This story, whether true, false, or somewhere in between, is doubly tragic.  The deaths of the priests are one tragedy.  The second tragedy is that gay priests must continue to hide their sexual orientation due to official pressure from Catholic officials.

In 2005, when the Vatican issued an instruction to bishops around the world not to admit gay men to ordination or the seminary, many commentators, including New Ways Ministry, said that the effect of this rule would be to force gay candidates and priests further into the closet.  Instead of preventing gay men from becoming priests, this instruction would have the dangerous and damaging effect of forcing them to lie about their sexuality, prevent them from integrating their sexuality into their  spiritual and personal lives in holy and healthy ways, and result in significant personal damage to these men, the people they serve, and the entire church.

If indeed the allegations that one of these priests had sexually transmitted diseases, that the two maintained a clandestine social life, and that in desperation they ordered their own deaths, prove to be true, then church leaders who promote homophobia in the clerical life share a large portion of the responsibility for these tragedies.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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