ALL ARE WELCOME: Outreach and In-reach

February 17, 2014

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.

Parishes that want to welcome LGBT people into their communities often think of their work as “outreach.”  They consider that to bring LGBT people to their communities, they need to go outside their doors and offer a welcoming hand to the unchurched or alienated.

That’s a good strategy, but it shouldn’t be a parish’s only strategy.  In addition to looking outside their community, a parish that wants to welcome LGBT people should also look inside itself for LGBT members.

The assumption that LGBT people are always outside the church is not totally accurate.  While it is true that many LGBT folks have experienced some sort of alienation from insitutional religion, many others have not left the Catholic community and are still active members of parishes.  Parish leaders and pastoral ministers may not be aware that these parishioners are LGBT because the parishioners have decided not to make their identities known, some times out of fear that they will be ostracized.

That’s why in addition to outreach, parishes can also benefit from doing some “in-reach.”  In addition to welcoming outsiders, basically evangelical work, parishes can benefit from looking inwards to see why the LGBT people in their communities may not feel comfortable revealing their identities.

More and more LGBT people are finding it easier to be “out” in their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces, but some times, unfortunately, they do not feel comfortable being open about their identities in their faith communities.  They may feel they will be rejected outright or be denied leadership and ministry roles in the parish.

There are many ways that parishes that want to welcome LGBT people can send messages to those members of their communities that do not yet feel comfortable “coming out” :

1)   Include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their concerns in the prayers of the faithful.

2)   Mention examples of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in homilies to illustrate Gospel lessons, values, and virtues.

3)   Make sure your parish mission or welcome statement includes a specific mention of lesbian,gay,bisexual, transgender people.

4)  Host events specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, their family members, and supporters.

5)  Choose a special Sunday to celebrate the gifts that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people bring to the faith community.

6)  Adopt a non-discrimination policy for parish employment and volunteer opportunities.

7)  Make sure that visibly out lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people have leadership roles in the community.

What has your parish done to let LGBT folks in your parish know that it would be safe and comfortable for them to “come out” in your community.  Post your suggestions and experiences in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“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.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Weighing Pope Francis’ Impact on Transgender Issues

October 14, 2013

Hilary Howes

Many have embraced Pope Francis for his welcoming remarks and actions towards gay and lesbian people, but what about transgender people? Two commentaries reveal both the positive effect the pope is having on issues of gender identity and the tremendous work remaining to make Catholic communities more inclusive for all.

Hilary Howes writes from the perspective of a trans Catholic woman in a post titled, “Oh What a Difference a Pope Makes…” She recalls comments by former Pope Benedict XVI who once condemned sex reassignment and shifting gender identities, contrasting this with Pope Francis in the America magazine interview:

“The pope comments: ‘St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth…The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.’ “

In light of the pope’s dynamic viewpoint on Catholic teaching, Hilary asks what this could mean for transgender people if the Church can change:

“Could our new pope be speaking to transgender people (among others)? He sites slavery and the death penalty that were once supported by the church to show that the church can be wrong and can change. It’s a reading that looks for the loving embrace of god to deepen with the maturity that comes with science and social development. Not the retreat from science and social development that is fundamentalism. The mistreatment of transgender people by the church comes from out of date science and the most fundamental interpretation of church dogma, not even theology. This can end now, with this Pope’s leadership and given the overwhelming support of socially conscious American Catholics.”

Too many Catholics feel excluded from local churches because of their gender identity. With this exclusion in mind, Pope Francis’ interview spurred even conservative blogger Elizabeth Scalia to ask whether the Catholic Church has room for transgender people.

Elizabeth Scalia

Writing in First Things, Scalia speaks about a friend, Sarah, who was a trans woman attracted to the Catholic faith, but who declared “she could never convert because ‘the church wouldn’t have me, as I am.’ ” Of this Scalia writes:

“It broke my heart that Sarah believed this. I urged inquiry with a priest, but this child of God was convinced that there was no room for transgendered persons in the Catholic church. I thought there might be, and made a few discreet inquiries of my own; what I encountered was a general sense of dis-ease among the clerics and theologians I asked. None of them said ‘No, there is no room’ but none of them would definitively say ‘yes’ either…

“May Sarah be admitted into this field hospital for sinners? I considered my job, and the job of the church, as being first of all to love the person before me; to see Sarah, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, ‘not simply with my eyes and feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ’; to respect the dignity of this human person seeking a relationship with Christ and then offer an arm of support for the journey. This might mean challenges down the road, certainly, but first and foremost it would require an unambiguous welcome.”

Scalia’s full post is flawed in its welcome because it perpetuates a negative belief that transgender people are in some way sinful or should be counseled out of their true identity. Yet, this questioning by even defenders of the hierarchy’s strict sexual ethics suggests that Pope Francis is having a positive effect on LGBT issues. In past years, such questions would have been dead on arrival, if they ever emerged at all.

Hilary’s faith comes through at the end of her post, and is a call for all Catholics:

“My god is the Creator. I believe our highest calling is to create. Our humble attempts at art, engineering, commerce, and social inventions honor our creator…Understanding creation as opposed to procreation as a central theme of faith helps us to appreciate the spectacular diversity of nature and humans and gender expression.”

By educating themselves, Catholics can overcome existing prejudices and misinformation about transgender people and participate in creating parishes, dioceses, and eventually a broader Church that is, in the words of Pope Francis, a “home for all.”

One start could be attending New Ways Ministry’s upcoming workshop, “Trans-forming Love.” You can find more information about the event here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Welcome Signals a New Dawn of Hope for LGBT People and Allies

September 19, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people.  His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.  His message initiates a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming  to all.

In the interview, Francis answers one of the most vexing questions since he was elected to the Catholic church’s highest office:  Has his positive attitude toward LGBT issues and his penchant for not mentioning them controversially been intentional or circumstantial?

In the interview, released today, he has let the world know that his approach has definitely been intentional, signaling a new direction in the way the papacy addresses these topics.

His direct response to that question was answered by him:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

““The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things. . . . We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

This answer reflects not only good theology, but it reflects the pastoral wisdom that countless priests, nuns, deacons, and lay people have been practicing for decades in terms of their outreach to LGBT people.  In parishes, college campuses, and faith communities, outreach to LGBT people has always been done in noting the full context of their lives, not just the sexual arena.  Pastoral ministers have realized that focusing on the sexual arena was not only demeaning, but was spiritually deadening to both LGBT people and the entire faith community.

But the pope went further in his interview, too. The pope was asked how the Church can respond pastorally to marginalized groups, including same-sex couples.  What is remarkable about his answer is that it is the first time that a pope has offered direction on pastoral care of LGBT people that did not focus solely on sexual behavior. The pope said:

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

The pope’s interview, which should be read in its entirety, did not focus on LGBT issues.  Instead it presents a beautiful picture of a humble, pastoral leader who seems willing to learn from all members of the Church.  In a discussion on the nature of the Church, he referred to it in the way that Vatican II did, as not just the hierarchy but the entire people of God:

“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. . . . When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”

And he emphasized that the church is big enough to welcome ALL kinds of people.  This is directly opposite from Pope Benedict XVI’s approach when he said that he wanted to purify the church, even if that meant having a much smaller institution.  Pope Francis said:

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful.”

Millions of Catholics, and many others, are eager to be part of such a church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

New York Times: Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

New Ways Ministry Says “#FollowFrancis”


Pope Francis & Polish Bishop Inspire Hope in Nation’s LGBT Catholics

September 5, 2013

Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on the question of why Catholic bishops did not respond more positively to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” remarks in July. Recent comments by Poland’s leading Catholic figure are an example of how more positive speech about LGBT people in the papacy’s wake can and is inspiring hope for a new tone among LGBT Catholics.

Polskie Radio reports that Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland, said the Church “will not turn its back on homosexuals” when asked about Pope Francis’ July statement on gay priests. Further, the radio station reports:

“Asked by Poland’s Rzeczpospolita daily whether the pope’s words had ‘started a revolution in the Church,’ Archbishop Kowalczyk said there was ‘nothing new’ in the pope’s comments.

“ ‘Homosexuality is a known phenomenon throughout history, both in the world and in the Church,’ he said.“

” ‘The Church will not turn its back on homosexuals. They are its members, as human beings, just like everyone else.’ “

The archbishop affirmed that one’s sexual orientation is no reason for exclusion from the Catholic community and he knows of “very worthy people” who had ‘homosexual tendencies.’ While the language of ‘tendency’ and reiteration of the hierarchy’s condemnation of same-sex acts is included, Archbishop Kowalczyk’s tone is pastorally inclined, even in a densely Catholic and conservative nation where many idolize the highly traditionalist Pope John Paul II. It seems Pope Francis’ new style of compassion and welcome for LGBT is slowly catching on. This is true even when it comes to legal recognition of same-gender couples, as Polskie Radio reports:

“When asked what the Church’s stance would be if the government – which is currently divided on the issue – legalised civil partnerships, Archbishop Kowalczyk said that such a union would not be recognised by the Church as ‘a marriage.’

“However, he added that ‘it is the state’s job to regulate all that relates to matters of property and inheritance for people living together of the same sex.’ “

It is not an endorsement of marriage equality, but is equally far from the sometimes vitriolic language used by bishops when opposing LGBT equality in civil matters. One could even interpret the second part as favorable to civil unions, similar to Pope Francis’ position when he was archbishop in Argentina.

Meanwhile, a Catholic LGBT group in Poland called Faith and Rainbow released a letter to Pope Francis to thank him for encouraging acceptance of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It says in part:

“We assure you, dear Holy Father, that within the Church, but also in front of its gates, there are many persons who have been waiting a long time for such words. Those persons often suffer fear, oppression, loneliness and rejection – and far too often, unfortunately, it is their own Church community that largely contributes to raising such feelings. The example of your gentle and clement attitude will surely help us to overcome the painful distrust or even clear hostility which we experience almost every day from our brothers and sisters in faith…

“We have been waiting a long time for some words of comfort and encouragement. Today we thank God for having heard them. These words give us confidence in the future. From now on, we will be waiting with new hope, until the hard times are over, like the biblical Flood. After a flood of intolerance, we look out for a rainbow of reconciliation, and we expect recognition of our rights in the future, when we no longer have to live in isolation and in fear of our neighbours. We hope that the days are coming when, equally with all other people, we can enjoy access to the great gift and sign of the God’s presence in the world – the unbelievable mystery of love.”

Earlier this year, Polish legislators voted down a marriage equality bill, even as some questioned the influence of the Polish Catholic Church on politics when the nation’s first transgender politician was elected. Echoing the hope expressed by Faith and Rainbow, perhaps it is time for the Polish Church to follow Pope Francis even further and, at the least, refrain from opposing LGBT equality in law.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: Baltimore Pastor Defends LGBT Ministry from Pulpit

July 24, 2013
Fr. Joe Muth

Fr. Joe Muth

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.

Faced with criticism of a parish LGBT outreach ministry, Fr. Joe Muth’s homily in early Julysent a message relevant for all Catholic parishes about welcome, diversity, and the Gospel. The pastor heads up St. Matthew’s Parish, Baltimore, Maryland, which recently particiapted in their city’s Pride parade.  Fr. Muth was also recently quoted in the news for his support of gay and lesbian Catholics.

Fr. Muth drew on the readings to warn against literal interpretations of Scripture, often used in discussions of sexuality, before holding up the Gospel message for that Sunday. He uses Scripture to introduce the ministry’s place in their parish:

“Rejecting  one another is rejecting God, because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the gospel today the 72 returned in jubilation not because they had divided the communities where they preached, deported all the immigrants, and discriminated against people of color, but because they preached the word of God and rid the community of demons. Our internal demons are divisive, but we have to face them and rid ourselves of them…

“Two years ago when a Gay and Lesbian Outreach group, called LEAD, started in the parish, I supported this new organization. Why? Because some Gay and Lesbian people asked me if it was ok to go to church here. Can you imagine that? They had to ask. It wasn’t obvious because of my attitude or the church attitude that they were accepted. So I told them the same thing I have told other individuals and groups who wanted to join St. Matthew, “You are welcome!” Sometimes, as soon as I talk about our Gay and Lesbian outreach group, I feel some tension in the church. I hear it and I see it.”

This localized tension around the LEAD Ministry, as the LGBT outreach group is known, is why Fr. Muth felt compelled to explain his process in allowing the ministry. He continued by explaining that if gay and lesbian parishioners are asked to leave, than so will all others who are considered “against the teachings of the church.” He asked:

“So if we lump all of these people considered immoral and against the teachings of the Church and the Will of God together, and ask them to leave….then…….Who is left?????

“Isn’t it better to reach out to people, rather than to be divisive and judgmental?? We heard in the scriptures today that the harvest is plentiful….that there is work to do. If we attempt to throw everyone out, is that our work? Is our work to throw people out?”

Answering in the negative, Fr. Muth then drew from the American bishops’ 1997 document, “Always Our Children,” to affirm the Church’s call to incorporate LGBT members into communities of faith and actively oppose discrimination. In summary, the priest asked the question many seemingly asked him – what does he want with this LGBT ministry? He answers:

“I want the children growing up in this church to hear their first words referring to Gay and Lesbian people to be words of compassion, acceptance, and kindness, not words of judgment, discrimination and hate….

“My criteria, as your Pastor, is the following: If you are human, and you want to get to know Jesus, and you want to live in a church community, and you want to learn compassion, acceptance, and kindness, and you want to share your gifts——-

“I have one thing to say———

“YOU ARE WELCOME HERE IN THIS CHURCH!!! God Bless You!!”

New Ways Ministry thanks Fr. Joe Muth and St. Matthew’s Parish for being a gay-friendly Catholic community and continuing to welcome all. It would be a pleasure to hear many more priests tackle LGBT issues from the pulpit with such Gospel-rooted calls to love inclusively.

You can read the full homily text on the St. Matthew’s Facebook page. If you have heard a welcoming homily lately, please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


More to the Story Than Simply an Exorcism

July 22, 2013

While reviewing news stories and opinion pieces for this blog, I tend to avoid pieces which scream of sensationalism, of which there are many since this blog deals with two journalistically volatile topics:  religion and sexuality.

Image from the movie "The Exorcist"

Image from the movie “The Exorcist”

One story came across my computer screen a few weeks ago about a priest in Italy recommending an exorcism for a young gay man.   Reading the headline, I initially wrote this off as a sensational story.  Yet someone sent me the link recently, and when I read the whole story, I realized there was more to it than just the exciting headline.

Indeed, the story is not so much about  the priest, but about a mother who is a strong advocate for her son and LGBT people.

Gay Star News  reported the incident this way:

“A faithful Catholic mom was comanded to get an exorcist and leave the church, after her priest discovered her teenage son was gay.

“His condemnation came after she begged him to read a letter to his congregation in favor of gay rights on behalf of her and her son.

“But he replied: ‘Your son is a devil. So, please, go to an exorcist. And, please, leave this church.’

“The incident earlier this month in Palermo, the capital of the Italian island of Sicily, has now been reported by LGBT Christian group Ali d’Aquila.”

But buried in the story is the fact that this mother was a fearless advocate for her son:

According to Ali d’Aquila coordinator Giovanni Capizzi:

“She asked the priest to read a pro-gay letter during the service. But this is how the priest reacted.”

More importantly, Capizzi also noted that he sees this priest’s response as uncharacteristic of the Catholic clergy that he knows:

“Ali d’Aquila is hosted by priest Padre Cosimo Scordato in the San Francesco Saverio church in the Albergheria area in Palermo.

“We have to thank all the wonderful priests who believe in us. Not all the church people are homophobic or anti-gay.

“Some priests don’t want us to pray and hold public meetings, but some of them are really friendly and pro-gay.”

So, far from being a story about  a priest’s ignorant reaction, the story turned out to be about a mother who was advocating her son, and the fact that Catholic priests in Sicily are more welcoming of LGBT people than is usually thought.  I’m glad I read the story past the headline.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Leave Over LGBT Issues, As Bishops Redouble Anti-Equality Work

July 2, 2013

Archbishop Charles Chaput denies Communion to parish activists

A new poll conducted at a Philadelphia-area parish by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management reveals that LGBT issues are rising in prominence as a reason Catholics leave the Church. Yet, at the same time, members of the hierarchy double-down on their efforts to oppose equality for sexual minorities.

The survey asked 189 non-practicing and former Catholics about their reasons for leaving, producing instructive results for Catholic bishops and clergy struggling to retain parishioners. Scandals around sexual abuse and mishandling of cases was the primary reason, at about seventeen percent of respondents, but this does not reveal current trends. NewsWorks interviewed the poll’s director, Charles Zech of Villanova University, who said:

” ‘People who are going to leave the church over the scandal and the church’s handling of it have already left. So people leaving the church today are leaving for other reasons…A growing reason we found out was the church’s attitude toward homosexuals and gay marriage. A lot of younger people object to the church’s teaching on that.’ “

Catholic support of LGBT rights, especially for equal marriage, is well-documented, but there is little hard data on what the practical implications of this split between Catholics in the pews and their anti-gay leaders. This study suggests not only are the bishops’ policies against marriage equality and LGBT rights harming the directly affected communities, but have wider implications which undermine parish communities. Most leaving do not quit organized religion, but transfer to Protestant communities.

As this new polling is released, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is preparing anew to oppose anti-discrimination legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Pennsylvania is the sole northeast state without LGBT protections written into law on such things as employment and housing, and equality advocates are hoping to change this legislation. NewsWorks reports that representatives of the Conference base their objections in a fear that the Catholic Church would be forced to contradict its beliefs in social services, hospitals, and other institutions.

The Villanova parish study, which will not be made public, names both local issues as well as problems with the Vatican and US bishops as reasons for leaving the Catholic church. Polling director Zech believes local changes, like improved liturgies, could stem the losses. Many troubles are occurring in Philadelphia over parish-based issues, like closures and clustering, that even lead to protests at an immigration Mass recently–and saw Archbishop Charles Chaput deny Communion to three people.

Philadelphia Catholic leadership could withdraw their opposition to simple anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of LGBT people to their jobs, homes, and public services. Protecting the dignity of every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is well-rooted in the Catholic tradition and it is why so many Catholics support equality. It is time to focus on creating welcoming communities and building up strong parishes, instead of opposing anti-discrimination laws and denying Communion.   The new polling data show that the bishops’ current course on LGBT issues is a losing proposition.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Preaches for ‘Open Doors’ to Welcome All

June 3, 2013

Pope Francis

A stark contrast to the actions of  members of the US hierarchy lately, Pope Francis is preaching a gospel of tolerance from the Vatican leaving many commentators and Catholics wondering what implications this will have. Whereas Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is quite literally closing the cathedral doors to LGBT Catholics and failing their pastoral needs, the pope is demanding that every church’s doors be open wide to anyone who seeks Jesus Christ.

Kevin Clarke at America calls Pope Francis a “human pastoral quote machine” when he reports on the pope’s recent morning Mass homily about welcoming all:

” ‘Today’s mildly rebuked pharisees are the self-appointed pastoral border guards who hold up a hand in consternation instead of offering one in welcome when the less-than-perfect among us seek to gate crash at the house of the lord. ‘There is always a temptation,’ Pope Francis warned, ‘to try and take possession of the Lord.’ The pope spoke of an unofficial ’8th’ sacrament created by parish gatekeepers to throw up obstacles to those they deem unworthy…

“Pope Francis said, ‘Jesus is indignant when he sees’ such efforts to block people from sacramental life because those who suffer are ‘his faithful people, the people that he loves so much.’ “

Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter analyzes this homily, and identifies two challenges that Francis lays at the feet of American bishops: what it means to be a pastor and the limits of theology. He quotes the pope as saying:

“‘Jesus is indignant when he sees these things [Catholics being excluded]‘ – said the Pope – because those who suffer are ‘his faithful people, the people that he loves so much’

“‘We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him, we think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill … So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus.’

Winters questions prelates like Archbishop Charles Chaput who exclude a child from Catholic elementary school for having lesbian mothers. He notes the false torment of Catholic parishes and dioceses around the recent Boy Scouts of America decision to allow gay youth. Ultimately, he concludes that the pope’s message should change this dynamic by making clergy more about love than rules.

The second challenge from Pope Francis is a critique of intellectualizing faith, as if theology provides every answer and all guidance. Too often the LGBT community is greeted with technical terms and strict categorizations from priests bound by out-dated theology, not pastoral love. Winters writes in summary:

“Papa Francesco is challenging all of us, across the board, to re-think our attitudes and our ideologies, our certainties and our prejudices…It seems like the Holy Father is becoming the world’s parish priest, and I hope the actual parish priests (and their bishops) will follow his example. He is welcoming. He is challenging. He is straight forward. But, most of all, he is loving.”

In loving and inviting all who seek our Catholic community, Pope Francis provides an alternative to the standard policy of exclusion found in too many parishes and dioceses. He claims Jesus is “indignant” when Catholics cannot access the sacramental life of the Church, the opposite of what Detroit Archbishop Vigneron said when he told told Catholics who support marriage equality to stay away from communion. The pope is preaching words of welcome, just as many are asking, “Can LGBT Catholics find a home in the Church?”  This question can be answered positively if bishops around the world are listening to Rome, and on this matter, we must hope they are.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Boy Scouts’ Proposed Change Finds Catholics on Both Sides of the Debate

May 18, 2013

As the Boy Scouts of America deliberate about accepting gay members, with a decision looming next week, Catholics involved with scouting are lining up on both sides of the debate.

An article in USA Today reports on the upcoming decision facing BSA:

“The proposal, which would allow gay Scouts but continue to exclude gay adults as leaders, has the unanimous support of Boy Scouts’ top officials, and will be voted on by the group’s 1,400-member national council on May 23…

“Already suffering a long-term membership decline, the Scouts’ proposal is an effort to appeal to younger parents who increasingly support gay rights. But the current two-pronged ban has strong support among existing members and volunteers, many of whom believe accepting gay members will clash with their religious convictions.”

Strong opposition comes from faith-based groups, responsible for over 70% of scouting troops nationally, and among these are Catholics conflicted by the proposal. The National Catholic Council on Scouting released a vague statement affirming the hierarchy’s understanding of gay issues and promising to respond once the proposal is voted on.

At the grassroots level, USA Today reports some Catholic scout leaders are already threatening resignation, and some pastors plan to sever ties with BSA if openly gay scouts are allowed. Yet other Catholic leaders are hoping that gay scouts will be accepted:

“At St. Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church in Springfield, Va., the Rev. John De Celles announced in his church bulletin that the parish troop would end its relationship with the Boy Scouts if membership standards change…

“As many as a quarter of the 273,000 Boy Scouts connected to Catholic-run troops could leave, some leaders estimate. Still, many Catholic parishes welcome the move to allow openly gay scouts into their troops.

“‘If it changes, that’s fine with us. In fact, I’m hoping they do change it,’ said Monsignor Donald Romito of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Irvine, Calif. ‘We’re welcoming to everybody, and everybody’s welcome to join the Scouts. It wouldn’t impact our relationship with the troop at all.’”

For its part, the BSA leadership is advocating strongly for the national council, which meets May 22-24, to allow gay scouts and has worked to address the concerns of Catholics and other faith-based participants:

“We believe that this policy remains true to the virtues, the core principles of scouting, not of any one religion, but of Scouting,” said BSA executive committee member Nathan Rosenberg, in a webcast urging support for the plan.”

Like one’s faith and one’s sexuality, involvement in scouting is a large influence on a young person’s identity. Catholics involved in scouting must encourage youth to openly embrace every part of who they are during formative years. It is time for Catholic leadership to echo Monsignor Romito’s call to welcome every youth who wishes to participate in BSA troops and end a discriminatory practice that forces scouts to remain closeted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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