CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Continues as Gay-Friendly Campus Despite Pressure

August 5, 2013

At the risk of boasting, I have to admit that it is a sweet feeling when The New York Times catches up to a message that New Ways Ministry has been saying for over a decade now:  many Catholic colleges and universities are places where LGBT students, faculty, and staff are extremely welcome.

Georgetown UniversityThe Times recently profiled Georgetown University, Washington, DC, the oldest Catholic college in the country, and how it has put out a welcome mat to LGBT people, though this welcome has not come without some controversy.  The school, which boasts probably the largest LGBT Resource Center on any Catholic campus, has a wide-range of activities and events celebrating the LGBT experience:

“ ‘Every month is a good month to be gay at Georgetown,’ said Thomas Lloyd, president of the campus pride group. Indeed, there’s a Gender Liberation Week, Gay Pride Month, a popular drag ball called Genderfunk and a Lavender graduation ceremony attended by the university president.”

But this open campus atmosphere did not come easy:

“Not so long ago, relations between the university and its gay students were strained. In 1980, the students had to sue for equal privileges for their organizations. In 2007, they stormed the steps of Healy Hall, protesting what they saw as an inadequate response to antigay incidents. And a 2008 survey found that 61 percent of students thought homophobia was an issue. That year, the administration began to address the problem, opening an L.G.B.T.Q. resource center with a full-time staff.”

Nate Tisa

Nate Tisa

And despite the current advances, such as electing its first openly gay student body president, Nate Tisa, there are still challenges to be overcome:

“Shortly after Mr. Tisa’s victory, William Peter Blatty, the octogenarian author of ‘The Exorcist,’ and Manuel A. Miranda, a fellow alumnus, circulated a petition and 198-page memorandum condemning Georgetown for promoting a culture of ‘moral relativism’ and an ideology of ‘radical autonomy.’ More than 2,000 alumni have signed the petition, which was sent in May to Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington. The petition calls on the archbishop to better regulate the university or strip it of its Catholic identity, an unlikely but technically possible outcome.”

Wisely, Cardinal Wuerl chose not to respond to the petition, and a Georgetown spokesperson defended the school’s Catholic identity:

“Cardinal Wuerl declined to comment, but Rachel Pugh, a Georgetown spokeswoman, pointed to the university’s two required theology classes and up to seven Sunday Masses at the main chapel as evidence that it is deeply connected to its Catholic identity. The university also organizes church retreats and regular Eucharistic adoration ceremonies. Dozens of priests live on campus and serve as spiritual mentors.

” ‘Our Catholic and Jesuit identity on campus has never been stronger,’ Ms. Pugh said. ‘Academically, we remain committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition.’ ”

The students seem undaunted by the criticism.  Student president Tisa, in fact, is advancing a bold agenda:

“During his sophomore year as vice speaker of the student senate and his junior year as speaker, Mr. Tisa helped produce a report on the challenges that incoming gay students face when they arrive. While students found a welcoming environment in the L.G.B.T.Q. Resource Center, with its beanbags, Diet Cokes and lots of students to share thoughts with, Georgetown was still a scary place to come out. Some complained of intolerant, sometimes verbally abusive roommates, and resident assistants unskilled at addressing altercations.

“The report proposed several initiatives — a gender-neutral dorm and a Safe Spaces program that would designate rooms on every dorm floor where gay and minority students could retreat if needed. Last spring, Mr. Tisa began vigorously pushing for both.”

And Tisa’s activism for LGBT equality is based in his Catholic faith:

“He attended a Jesuit high school, where, tall and broad-shouldered, he played football. Early on, he began to suspect he was gay. It was as tortuous internally as it was externally. Would he have to choose between God and a happy life?

“His faith had brought him strength as a child dealing with his parents’ divorce. Once again, he found solace in prayer, and in conversations with other Catholics. The first person he shared his story with was a layperson he had grown close to during weekend youth retreats. ‘She said, “I love you. God loves you. And I’m here for you,” ‘ he recalled. ‘Then we cried.’ That encounter, he said, reminded him that Catholic teachings were ‘based on love, not condemnation.’

“ ‘I really wanted to be part of that,’ he said.”

Catholic faith and identity are indeed at the heart of the work that those on campus are doing for LGBT students:

“Mr. Lloyd, the pride group president, says he is often tempted to join the more tolerant Episcopal Church. But for many young Catholics, particularly of Irish or Italian descent, Catholicism is interchangeable with identity. ‘You stay Catholic because you have a love of the institution and you want to change it,’ he said.

“It has taken Mr. Tisa years of reflection to work through how his sexual orientation and his Catholic faith can coexist. He refuses to accept that his relationship with another man is ‘intrinsically disordered,’ as described in church catechism. And he is quite sure of this: ‘God is not a child in a sandbox, making sculptures and throwing them away.’

“It is a message he is intent on spreading across campus with evangelical verve. As he often tells students: ‘We need to bring the Catholic identity into the 21st century.’ “

To learn about other gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, check out New Ways Ministry’s list of such places on its website.   A good recent examination of the Catholic gay-friendly college experience was written by Michael O’Loughlin and can be read here.  You can also search Bondings 2.0′s series “CAMPUS CHRONICLES.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Dignity Chapters in Washington, DC and Boston Each Celebrate 40 Years

December 3, 2012

Two East Coast chapters of DignityUSA, Washington, DC, and Boston, have both recently celebrated their 40th anniversaries.

In addition to being among the oldest chapters in the national organization, both are among the strongest chapters, too.

The Washington chapter hosted its 40th anniversary Mass on Sunday, December 2, 2012, with Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of the Washington chapter, as well as New Ways Ministry, as the guest homilist.

A Washington Blade article recounts some of the chapter’s history:

“Dignity/Washington started with a group of about 20 at its first Mass. It moved from twice-monthly to weekly Mass in 1976. Membership and Mass attendance peaked at about 500 and 350 respectively in the late ‘80s. By late 1990, it had become the largest Dignity chapter in the U.S., a feat it maintains to this day, though membership is now about 200 with an average of 90-100 believers attending weekly Dignity Mass in D.C. “

Sister Jeannine recounted the initial meeting of the chapter which took place “in the cafeteria of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with five others in 1971.”

Tom Bower, a co-chair for the 40th anniversary events reflected in the article on some of the chapter’s purposes:

“The official church would very much like us to disappear. We show that you can be gay and Catholic at the same time and happily so and despite the major efforts of a much bigger organization to throw us out. We’re part of a national organization and when the Pope comes out against something gay, we’re able to say, ‘No, that’s wrong.’”

Bower and Bob Miailovich, another long-time member of the chapter, also commented on the challenge of remaining in the Catholic church as gay men:

“ ‘People think, “Oh, why do you keep banging your head against the wall?’” Bower says. ‘That’s why we call it faith. It’s a belief that there is within the larger view of what it means to be Catholic, there’s something there that you just don’t have with other groups.’

“Miailovich says despite the anti-gay teachings, he still ‘find(s) more truth in the Catholic Church than I do in other religions. It’s not perfect and I don’t buy everything at the end of the day but from what I know of other religions and what they teach and believe, I find more truth on the Catholic side than elsewhere else.’ ”

Miailovich continued in this vein:

“ ‘The church really is the people of God,’ Miailovich says. ‘It’s a horizontal assembly, not some vertical thing where you have the Pope at the top and an triangle going down with everyone else. Out there in the pews, there’s a great deal of support for a more progressive agenda, for women’s ordination, for married priests, you have the nuns on the bus for social justice. Everybody in the church does not believe 100 percent of everything that may be promulgated from on high.’

“He also says there’s an ‘attitude that it’s my church and you can’t take it away from me.’

“ ‘I can’t leave what is mine and that leaves you with a sense that some day, somehow, change will be made. You’re right, there are people who’ve said, “Why spend a lifetime working with these people, let’s go start our own thing and not worry about what’s left behind.” But I’m not going to change. This is who I am. This is how I pray and how I worship and here I am. We pray for our church leaders because we feel they need enlightenment.’ ”

A blog post on Boston.com offers a bit of the origin’s of the Boston chapter:

“Dignity/Boston grew out of a short-lived group called Interfaith, started by a local diocesan Holy Cross priest, the late Father Tom Oddo, along with former Holy Cross seminarians Ray Struble and Jim Andrews, and Ralph Fuccillo, among others, according to Struble. Another priest instrumental in Dignity’s growth during the 1980’s until his death in 2005 was the Rev. Dr. Richard Rasi, a priest with the Melkite Catholic rite, who frequently presided at Mass and established a popular ministry in Provincetown.
“The local chapter first met on December 3, 1972, at the Randolph Country Club. The next year, Dignity moved to St. Clement’s Church where it remained until 1977 when the local chapter moved to Arlington Street Church. In 1988, Dignity/Boston moved to St. John the Evangelist Church, located in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where it remains today.”

The post also describes the distinguished history of activism and advocacy that the Boston chapter has:

“Politics and religion mixed well in the organization’s early years. ‘Dignity represented —for those of us who were Catholic — our political family, because [secular gays wanted] nothing to do with the religious crowd,’ said Struble. Keep in mind, he continued, ‘Boston was one of the most politicized gay cities in the country and one of the most Catholic.’

‘Dignity gave voice to the political piece that people of faith were trying to get into the public square,’ he explained. ‘We had push back from secularists. We were looked at as compromising.’ ”

‘But politics was only half of the Dignity equation.

“ ‘For those of us who were coming out of Vatican II and coming to terms with gayness, and what I learned in the seminary, I felt [the need] to be doing Christ’s work in the world,’  Struble said. ‘For those of us in the seminary, this was our calling.

“ ‘We took the social action of Jesus’ message to heart to be religious activists. That meant accepting everything, including women at the altar,’ he explained. ‘The sacrament [of the Eucharist] was the affirmation of us as one.’ “

But ecclesiastical and secular politics are not the full picture, as one of Boston’s younger members, Steven Young, points out:

“I don’t think I know God’s will better than anyone else. But I know what I know, and the truth I have about who I should love and whether that is sinful or not. I feel it deeply in my soul that being gay is not wrong [and] that I have to share with the rest of the Church. If people are blind to that—all the more reason for sharing that truth with others.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, a Boston member, who is also the Executive Director of DignityUSA, agrees:

“ ‘Faith, community, vision, and courage,’ said Duddy-Burke. ‘That’s what we offer to the LGBT movement and the church.’ ”

Like Dignity chapters across the country, these two communities offer vibrant opportunities for spiritual development, community, service, and support.  As Sister Jeannine Gramick said at the close of the Blade article:

“They’ve had a marvelous ministry here for 40 years ministering to local LGBT Catholics. It’s really a time to rejoice.”

And we add our own message to both chapters:  “Ad multos annos!”  (“Many more years!”)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Movement Toward Equality on Two Catholic Campuses

May 4, 2012

Some movement occurred this week on getting gay-straight alliances recognized on two of the nation’s premier Catholic campuses: University of Notre Dame (UND) and Catholic University of America (CUA).

At UND in South Bend, Indiana, the campus administration announced that it would postpone a decision about official recognition for AllianceND until the fall semester.  According to an article in the student newspaper, The Observer :

“Director of Student Activities for Programming Peggy Hnatusko sent an email to the co-presidents of AllianceND, the gay-straight alliance that applied for club status, notifying them of the deferral.

“ ‘The University intends to review the breadth of structures and services currently provided to LGBTQ students and their allies by the University in the hopes of making the best decisions possible to support our students and the University community, all within the context of Catholic teaching,’  she stated in the email. ‘I will review AllianceND’s application in the course of those discussions.’

“In her 15 years as director, Hnatusko said this is the first year she has deferred a decision about a club’s status.

“ ‘I just wanted a little bit more time to look at the proposal, look at what the University offered,’ she said. ‘There has been a lot going on and I wanted to give everyone the fairest chance possible.’ “

Bondings 2.0 was able to get reaction to the deferral decision from Alex Coccia, a UND sophomore who is a co-president of AllianceND:

“I am encouraged because the dialogue surrounding the GSA and inclusion generally has become much more honest and open.  The commitment to a broader examination, I believe, reflects the student voices that have been expressed in the last week and over the whole semester.  All of the students must be very proud of the work that they have done.
“We have begun to collect personal testimonials that are reflections on personal experiences as well as reactions about the events of the past week.  We hope that this collection of testimonials, as well as the voices that have been expressed in the last week, will be the guiding influences for the ultimate decision regarding the GSA.  We also encourage that students start the conversation in their own hometowns with friends and alumni/ae.
“In the past two days, faculty and alumni have written in support, and over 2000 students have signed a commitment statement to inclusion.
“Students will certainly be involved in the conversation directly with Student Activities when the fall semester begins and throughout the summer. “
On CUA’s campus in Washington, DC, the campus community has been celebrating the school’s 125th anniversary.  Two leaders from CUAllies, the gay-straight alliance seeking official recognition, took the occasion to publicly reflect in the student newspaper on the campus’ approach to LGBT issues.
In op-ed piece entitled “Reaffirming CUA’s Mission at 125 Years,” students Robert Shine and Ryan Fecteau recount the many achievements the campus has witnessed, but also note a glaring omission:

“At present, this campus does not present a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for LGBTQ students and their allies. There is hostility de jure in the policies (or lack thereof) of the University and de facto in the opinions and actions of many at this University concerning gay and lesbian community members.

“Now, members are seeking to change that in the finest of the Catholic tradition that celebrates dignity and justice. CUAllies, the unofficial LGBTQ/Ally student organization, has a proposal for official recognition in the Office of Campus Activities that has gone unanswered for months now.

“We must look forward as a University to the type of community we wish to establish for the future. In the tradition of Jesus’ table ministry, we must invite all members of The Catholic University of America community who wish to join the conversation and respond effectively.

“To quote a submission CUAllies received from a student on campus: ‘Love, simply love; above all else, love. That is what Christ instructed us to do…I cannot consciously tell someone that they have no place in the Church and have nothing to contribute to the community. If CUAllies were to be rejected as an organization, the University would essentially be doing just that. They would refuse to recognize a group of persons, with inherent dignity, to formally assemble as an organization and therefore effectively conclude that these people have nothing to contribute to the CUA community as an organization.’

“Reading the signs of our times, cognizant of the historical moment in which we participate in the University’s life, we now echo the voices of hundreds in calling for the recognition of CUAllies, by the administration.

“If we are to go forward in improving CUA, we must ensure that the community represents and values each person, according to his or her divinely granted dignity.”

The faith and persistence of these Catholic students on both campuses offers bright hope for the future of the acceptance of LGBT issues within Catholic institutions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral

February 28, 2012

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a priest at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), recently denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.  HuffingtonPost.com has posted a summary of various blog posts on the incident, including Ann Werner’s post on AddictingInfo.org, which broke the story.   Werner offers the details:

“My friend Barbara [Johnson], the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her,  ‘I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.’  To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.”

WUSA9.com, the website for a Washington-DC TV station, reports that the Archdiocese of Washington has issued a statement denouncing the incident:

“In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Washington conceded that Father Marcel had acted improperly, saying, ‘Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.’

“Barbara Johnson says she’s satisfied with the statement, though she adds that the damage done, both to her family and to her mother’s memory, could never be repaired.”

An action like this from a priest should not be tolerated.  What is still needed is a public apology from the priest and an offer of pastoral mediation between him, the woman, and her family.  These remedies are possible if Catholics contact Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the head of the Archdiocese of Washington. His contact information:

Cardinal Donald Wuerl                                                                                                                                                      Archdiocese of Washington                                                                                                                                                               P.O. Box 29260                                                                                                                                                                        Washington, DC 20017-0260  

chancery@adw.org

Tell Cardinal Wuerl that as a Catholic you oppose such blatant discrimination and pastoral incompetence.  Let him know that you consider the action offensive and insensitive.  Explain that you support free and equal access to communion of all Catholics, especially at such a pastorally critical moment as a funeral.  Let him know of your love and support of LGBT people.  Request that he instruct all his priests and pastoral ministers not to repeat such an action.  Call on him to provide pastoral training on LGBT issues for his priests and pastoral ministers. Ask him to call for an apology from Fr. Guarnizo, and to offer pastoral mediation between this priest, Ms. Johnson, and her family.  Speak from your heart and from your faith.

It’s important to keep in mind that Fr. Guarnizo’s action is not representative of the thousands of priests who minister daily to LGBT and heterosexual Catholics across the country.  At the same time, one incident is one too many.  As the blogosphere echoes with the reverberations of this story, this priest’s action is sending a loud negative message about the Catholic Church to LGBT people and their allies.  While we try to correct this negativity by writing to the Cardinal, we must also counter it by reminding people of our own stories of positive and affirming Catholic parishes which welcome and celebrate LGBT people.  Most importantly,we must speak out to Cardinal Wuerl to ensure that reconciliation occurs, and that an incident like this one never happens again.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Support and Self-Love: A Transgender Woman’s Story

December 7, 2011

In the Washington, DC area, where New Ways Ministry has its office, transgender issues have been prominent in the news this past year–unfortunately, for very tragic reasons.   A recent posting on ColorLines.com begins:

“This year was a bloody one for transgender women of color in Washington, D.C. In late July, Lashai Maclean was shot to death 10 blocks away from the office of Transgender Health Empowerment in Northeast D.C. Just 11 days later—and one block away from the scene of McLean’s slaying—Tonya Harrell was shot at but escaped. And in April, Chloe Alexander Moore was physically assaulted by an off-duty police office.”

Add to these the very high-profile attack  of Chrissy Lee Polis near Baltimore, and the defeat of a transgender equality bill in the Maryland legislature, and 2011 will not go down as a happy year for those who support justice for the “T” members of the LGBT community.

Danielle King Photo: ColorLines.com

The ColorLines.com  posting caught my eye because it contains a very moving first personaccount of Danielle King, development manager of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who grew up in a Catholic family. It is a story that promotes awareness and inspires courage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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