Case of German Lesbian Fired from a Catholic School Poses Moral Questions

April 25, 2015

The disturbing trend of Catholic institutions firing lesbian and gay church workers because they choose to legally marry their partners is spread across the U.S.    Even more disturbing, though, is that we have now seen examples of this discriminatory trend popping up in other countries, as well.  Last year we reported on a gay volunteer being dismissed from a Catholic relief organization in the U.K., and a lesbian teacher being fired from a Catholic school in Italy because rumors had spread about her orientation.

The Caritas kindergarten in Holzkirchen, Bavaria, Germany

This past week in Germany, it became public that a lesbian kindergarten teacher at a Catholic institution in Holzkirchen, a small Bavarian town, was made to sign a severance agreement after she informed her employer that she was making plans to legally marry her female partner.

WorldCrunch.com reported the story, noting that because of a confidentiality agreement between the teacher and school, the teacher’s name was not made public.   There are similar factors to cases in the U.S.  Like most cases here, the article reported that the crucial issue is a contract morality clause:

“The Catholic charity, Caritas, which runs the school, refers to Article Four of the ‘fundamental order of ecclesiastical duties in an ecclesiastical setting, with which everyone who works for a religious agency is familiar. This document states that all employees are expected to ‘recognize and follow the principles of the Catholic faith and ethical teaching.’ This is considered particularly relevant in the cases of educational and executive personnel.”

And like most cases here, the article reported that “The parents are also at a loss to understand the reasons for her having to leave.”

But the German situation is slightly different, too, from most U.S. cases.  In Germany, all kindergartens, even those sponsored by religious groups, receive public funding, so the church-state issue is more complex.   Another unusual twist in this story is that Caritas, the employer, offered the fired teacher “a post that did not entail any educational or executive duties but she refused the offer.”  It raises the interesting suspicion that they just did not want her in a position that would influence children, and that the moral gravity of her situation is actually somewhat relative, and not absolute.

Because the fired teacher is not speaking publicly, some local politicians have come to her defense:

“Ulrike Gote, a Green Party’s spokeswoman in the state of Bavaria, accuses the Catholic Church of ‘hypocrisy.”

” ‘The Church should actually be delighted that someone wants to marry their partner,’ Gote says. ‘These are the kinds of double standards that we have had to deal with for a very long time.’

“The mayor of Holzkirchen, Olaf von Loewis of the Christian Social Union, who is a practicing Catholic, also has difficulty accepting the stance his Church has taken towards homosexual relationships.

” ‘I am very familiar with the rules and regulations of the Church as an employer,’ Loewis says. ‘And I deem them to be wrong.’ “

As I read these similarly sad and tragic stories over and over again,  two questions always come to my mind:

1) Why is homosexuality, and in particular, committing to a legal marriage, the main reason that people are being dismissed from jobs in these morality clause cases?  There have been pregnancy-outside-of-marriage stories, but these, thank God, have been few.  The cardinal sin these days for church employers seems to be gay and lesbian people committing themselves in love to their spouses.  The fact that this issue has been singled out over all others should be proof enough that this is not about morality, but politics.

2) Though principals and church administrators often use the line that the morality clauses have to be enforced to set examples for children, do they ever think of the example that they themselves set in firing someone from a job they love, that they have been performing well, that they receive praise from those they serve, and that is their livelihood?  What lesson do children learn from such actions?

Church leaders need to start being self-reflective about their actions and policies.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Editor’s note:  There were many articles in German about this case on the web, but WorldCrunch.com was the only one in English that I found.

 

 


Nuns Who Walked Out of Catholic H.S. Need a Lesson in Gospel Reconciliation

April 24, 2015

San Francisco’s continuing saga with the intersection of LGBT issues and Catholicism took an unusual turn this week when five Dominican Sisters of Mary walked out of their classes at Marin Catholic High School, just outside the city, to protest some students’ involvement with the national Day of Silence, a campaign to show solidarity with LGBT youth who are bullied.

The walk-out happened one day after a full-page ad appeared in the city’s daily newspaper in which over 100 Catholic lay leaders called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone from pastoral leadership in San Francisco.  The archbishop’s attempt to add morality clauses, a number of which referred negatively to LGBT issues,  to archdiocesan teacher handbooks has set off a movement of teachers, parents, students and other Catholics to call for the removal of such clauses, though Cordileone has remained firm.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the nuns objected to the Day of Silence campaign because it is spearheaded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which, according to one of the Sisters, they see as a group which “believes actively in promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12.”

The article reported a GLSEN official’s explanation of the organization’s mission:

Kari Hudnell, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, denied that the group ‘actively promoted’ homosexuality in the classroom.

“ ‘We are not trying to convert anyone,’ she said. ‘We are just trying to make sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.’

“Hudnell pointed out that the group has pushed for anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws that apply to religious beliefs, as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.”

The nuns’ protest set off a chain-reaction of rumors and accusations, with some students saying that the nuns didn’t care about bullying (which the nuns denied) and with the nuns charging GLSEN with being anti-Catholic (which it is not). And although the involvement with the Day of Silence was an initiative started only by a group of students, some spread the false notion that it was the school as a whole who was sponsoring it and partnering with GLSEN.

When things get magnified so wildly, it is obvious that the atmosphere in this metropolitan area has become a tinderbox ready to explode.  The Chronicle reported that the school’s principal, Chris Valdez tried to diffuse the situation by sending a letter to parents which said it was “a challenging day on our campus resulting in both students and faculty feeling confused about our mission.”

Valdez has her work cut out for her, as she now tries to restore a productive school atmosphere in this charged environment.  She noted that she is trying to “bring authentic dialogue to the campus.”

It seems that among the lessons that needs to be taught is one to the protesting nuns, who seemed too quick to castigate GLSEN simply because they support LGBT youth.  The nuns seemed to have jumped immediately to assuming that GLSEN, because it is pro-LGBT, has nothing in common with Catholic values.  That is a very shortsighted assessment, and one which it seems was encouraged by the volatility of the atmosphere in the Catholic community of the Bay Area right now.

Another lesson that I wish were taught in this school, and in Catholic institutions everywhere, is that it is not charitable to cut off all connection with a person or organization just because one doesn’t agree with everything the organization stands for or because of their other associations.  Jesus was himself was harshly criticized for associating with people and hanging out in places that the religious leaders did not tolerate.  Part of following Jesus is about finding common ground and the good in people we may have disagreements with–even with people we might initially think of as enemies. That’s how reconciliation occurs.  That’s how love grows.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Drag Shows and Rainbow Proms Among Spring Celebrations

April 23, 2015

University of San Diego students at the 2014 drag show

The University of San Diego (USD), a Catholic campus in Southern California, hosted an LGBT-centered social event, which, once again, critics claim undermine the school’s Catholic identity. But, as one theologian notes, it is precisely by offering events which celebrate sexual and gender diversity that the church’s educational mission is fostered.

An event at USD entitled “Celebration of Gender Expression: Supreme Drag Superstar IV” was held last week as part of a seven-day program focused on Sexual Assault Awareness. While intended to be enjoyable, the program’s description points to the educational value as well:

“Transgender & Transsexual? Gender expression & gender identity?  What do these have to do with Sexual Assault Awareness Week?  Statistics show that the Trans Community is at a drastically higher risk for sexual and relationship violence.  Learn more about this important issue.”

This is the drag show’s fourth year and, as usual, it is drawing criticism from some conservatives. USD administrators, however, support the program. Last year, an appeal by these critics to the Vatican was dismissed.

USD is not the only Catholic college hosting LGBT-focused social events. Drag shows have been held at Seattle University and Loyola University Chicago, while other schools hold rainbow proms like Santa Clara University and Gonzaga University. Kristen Grewe of Santa Clara, who coordinates their Rainbow Prom, explained the significance of such events to their campus newspaper:

” ‘The goal is a big celebration of the LGBTQ community…Whether that’s those individuals celebrating themselves, allies celebrating that they exist or just celebrating our efforts to try and make Santa Clara more visibly accepting, we want to give people the opportunity they may not have gotten in high school.’

” ‘We decide with this event what we want to say to the community…We focus on queer empowerment, queer history, the queer movement and what it means to be queer on this campus and in the world.’ “

The stakes for trans* students on Catholic campuses are especially high, enough so that USD theology professor Emily Reimer-Barry reflected on the drag show as a “matter of life and death.” Writing at Catholic Moral Theology, Reimer-Barry discussed the high profile suicides of transgender teens Taylor Alesana and Leelah Alcorn before asking two very relevant questions:

“What responsibility do I have as a cisgender Catholic when I learn of stories like Taylor’s or Leelah’s? How can my faith tradition work to make the world safer and more just for all people, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation? These questions take on new urgency each April as my school prepares to host the drag show, an annual event sponsored by PRIDE.”

Noting critics, Reimer-Barry affirms the drag show at the intersection of quality theology and good pastoral care. She writes, in partial response to Alcorn’s famous request to “fix society”:

“What does it mean to fix society? What can the Catholic community do? At the very minimum, we should name bullying as wrong. Second, our schools should be places where questioning and transitioning teens feel safe to explore their own identities and to dress in the way that feels right to them. We should have support groups and counseling services for students in crisis, and encourage students to recognize the signs of depression and the warning signs for suicide. Often peers are the first to know when someone needs help. Our schools should be places not of shame or microaggressions but of hope, support, and love. And when an adult has the opportunity to discuss sexual behavior with a teen we should encourage self-care and responsibility. We can foster open discussion of sensitive issues and encourage students to keep asking questions. And as people of faith we should help students to see that God loves them, no matter what, and that each person is precious in the eyes of God.”

Furthermore, the drag show and similar events celebrating LGBTQ communities helps the church’s theological reflection. Last year, Reimer-Barry noted that the annual show is a moment for encounter:

“But it must be said that Catholic teachings are part of a dynamic faith tradition that must learn from new data as it is presented. The best theologians of the tradition—including those who shaped the above teachings—did so as people in particular historical-cultural contexts. As a tradition that has developed over time, Catholicism must engage the latest research in sociology, psychology, biology, and the rest of the sciences. And there is still so much we do not understand about our sexuality…So we must be careful not to overstep our claims when we discuss ‘church teaching on gender ideology.'”

Finally, Reimer-Barry offered insights broadly applicable for our church in how questions of sexuality and gender identity are approached:

“I believe that I have a responsibility to listen and learn from people whose life experiences are different than mine…I belong to a pilgrim Church, a Church with the doors open, a Church called to transform the darkness of the world by the light of Christ. I am proud to work in a Catholic university that hosts a drag show as a way to raise awareness about gender diversity. While the drag show will not ‘fix society,’ it represents one small step towards a more inclusive, intellectually rigorous, and joyful approach to the complexity of human experiences of sexuality.”

In these closing words, the goodness and, indeed, necessity of drag shows, rainbow proms, and other social events that open up affirming and inclusive spaces in Catholic education becomes readily apparent. Caring for students in their differences, expanding the perspectives of all in the community, cultivating shared understandings through dialogue, and celebrating the goodness of God’s creative power found in human diversity are all very Christian values. Catholic colleges and universities, rather than weakening their Catholic identity, strengthen it tenfold by building rainbow bridges over their campuses.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: Teacher, Cardinal, Pope, Transgender

April 22, 2015

NewsHere are some news items that you might find of interest:

1) Patricia Jannuzzi, the teacher at Immaculata Catholic high school, Sommerville, N.J., was reinstated to her job, after having been suspended for one month because of her anti-gay Facebook posts, according to a Religion News Service article.

2) Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, who stepped down from archdiocesan leadership after it came to light that he had sexually harassed a number of priests and seminarians, has resigned the “rights and privileges” of a cardinal.  O’Brien had been a harsh critic of LGBT equality, having called homosexuality a “moral degradation” and saying that it “demonstrably harmful,”  according to a Religion News Service story. 

3) Three Catholic LGBT leaders spoke on “The State of LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” at a panel presentation sponsored by the Human Rights’ Campaign’s Religion and Faith program.  The presenters wer transgender Catholic activist, J. Nicholas Stevens, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER); and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry. Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, director of HRC’s Latina/o and Catholic Initiatives, moderated the discussion.

4) J. Nicholas Stevens, one of the panelists mentioned in number 3 (above), has penned an essay about his faith journey and his transition for Time.com, entitled “I’m Proud To Be a Transgender Catholic.

–Francis DeBernardo

 


Bishop Bars Sr. Jeannine Gramick from North Carolina Family Gathering

April 22, 2015
Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter's Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday papal audience.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, has been barred from speaking at a Catholic parish in North Carolina, a move which seems to contradict Pope Francis’ initiatives for a more listening and merciful church.

Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte personally expelled a PFLAG-Charlotte event from St. Peter Catholic Church where it was set to be held, according to QNotes. (PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.) Diocesan spokesperson David Hains explained that Jugis acted against Sr. Gramick’s presence because of her connection to New Ways Ministry and outspoken support for LGBT rights. Gramick is in Ireland at the moment, encouraging Catholics to vote for marriage equality in that nation’s upcoming referendum.

LGBT advocates are criticizing Jugis’ decision as out of touch, contrasting it with Pope Francis and a new era in the Catholic Church he is helping to usher in. PFLAG-Charlotte President Diane Troy, a Catholic, said:

” ‘Sr. Jeannine’s message is very much in line with Pope Francis’ message of welcoming LGBT people to the Catholic Church. Her message of inclusion and acceptance has been well received by LGBT Catholics, the Catholic Church and its hierarchy for decades…It’s unfortunate that the Bishop, as our spiritual shepherd, has chosen to turn his back on so many.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, expressed similar sentiments:

” ‘It’s disappointing in the era of Pope Francis, where we see many Catholic leaders taking a more open approach to find out that Bishop Jugis has taken a more old-fashioned approach of silencing rather than [engaging in] dialogue and encounter, which are the words Pope Francis uses.’ “

QNotes’ report recalled the VIP seating at a papal audience that Sr. Gramick and 50 LGBT Catholics were granted this past February, a clear contradiction to Jugis’ rejection of Gramick.

However, this ban is especially unfortunate because the event, entitled “Including LGBTQ People and Their Families in Faith Communities,” takes up the very theme of pastoral care for families that Pope Francis has championed in the last two years. As DeBernardo pointed out, Catholics are engaged in LGBT inclusion precisely because they are Catholic and not in spite of it. This is particularly true when it comes to family life:

“For many Catholics, this particular issue is a matter of family. It is a matter of keeping families together and strengthening families. In the past two decades, more and more people in the U.S., including Catholics, have learned about an LGBT member in their family and that’s changed their hearts and their minds and moved them to work for equality.’ “

Diane Troy spoke to this reality as well:

” ‘My Catholic faith is profoundly important to me, as is the unconditional love and pride I feel for my gay son. Our Catholic school and parish communities should be a spiritual haven where all families receive acceptance and unconditional love.’ “

Despite the ban, the event scheduled for May 16 will go ahead at an alternate site that has yet to be determined.

This is only the latest controversy in the Diocese of Charlotte, which has fired two gay church workers in the past three years. All of this reveals just how much more Bishop Jugis and church leaders in Charlotte need to be attentive to Pope Francis’ example, allowing dialogue around LGBT issues particularly as they relate to pastoral concerns and working to make sure the local church is as inclusive as possible. Hopefully, in the weeks between now and May 16, clarity will come to Charlotte, and this harmful decision will be reversed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Supreme Court Marriage Equality Case Will Be Led by Catholic Gay Couple

April 21, 2015

An important Catholic dimension to the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case which could legalize same-gender marriage across the nation has just emerged in an article on The Huffington Post.

The Bourke-DeLeon Family: Michael, Isaiah, Greg, Bella

The news organization reported that the lead plaintiffs in one of the four cases that will have their oral arguments next week, with a decision expected by the end of June, are a Catholic gay couple, who are active parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Louisville, Kentucky.

Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke have been together for 33 years, and they have two children: Bella, 16, and Isaiah, 17.  They married in 2004, in Niagara Falls, Canada.  The article says that at the parish they “are just like any other family.”

Indeed, the pastor at O.L. of Lourdes praised their involvement and their acceptance by parishioners:

” ‘I’ve been here almost four years, and there might be a handful of people who are uncomfortable,’ said Father Scott Wimsett, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. ‘But [Bourke and DeLeon] are loved and respected and people call them. They’re involved, and you see how they fit in.’

” ‘They’re just good people,’ Wimsett went on. ‘And that’s kind of what it’s all about, isn’t it?’ “

The article described the legal and social dilemma that the couple are in because marriage equality is not yet legal in their home state of Kentucky:

“[T]hat’s the issue bringing them to the Supreme Court: Does the 14th Amendment require a state to recognize same-sex marriages that were lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

“While they wait, they still have to deal with the very real consequences of having a marriage that’s recognized by the federal government but not by their own state. For example, only DeLeon is listed as the legal parent of Bella and Isaiah.

“Their Supreme Court brief argues that if ‘Michael dies, Greg’s lack of a permanent parent/child relationship with the children would threaten the stability of the surviving family.’

“That legal distinction makes itself felt in day-to-day life in unexpected ways. For example, if Bella and Isaiah need passports, DeLeon will be the one to go with them, because in the eyes of the law, he’s their only parent.”

This is not the first time that the couple has been in the spotlight because of gay issues.  In 2012, Bourke was expelled from his position as the leader of a Boy Scout troop by the leadership of the local Scout Council.  The local community, including the parish and the pastor, came to his support during this crisis:

“[T]he community rallied behind Bourke. His troop and Wimsett, his pastor, stood up for him and refused to make him leave.

” ‘The Boy Scouts did the one thing they could do that was left in their arsenal… Our troop charter would have been revoked if I didn’t leave,’ said Bourke. ‘So because I love the troop and I love the boys and I love scouting… I resigned reluctantly.’ “

Ann Russo, a parishioner at O.L of Lourdes who is the leader of the Girl Scout troop offered her reflections on Bourke and DeLeon’s relationship:

” ‘I have a lot of admiration for Greg and Michael,’ said Russo. ‘They’re probably one of the first gay couples that I’ve gotten to know personally. And the fact that they’ve been together for so long just — I mean, they were just meant to be together. It’s been fun watching them post on Facebook — their anniversaries and birthdays and things like that.’

“She said she was proud to be a member of the parish when Wimsett stood behind Bourke and disagreed with the Boy Scouts’ policy.

” ‘I think that any of us, as parents, want to be involved with our kids,’ she said. ‘As a Girl Scout leader, I don’t talk about my sex life with any other leaders, much less children. That would never have come up.’ “

Bourke and DeLeon will not be the only Catholic dimension at the Supreme Court when these cases are heard and ruled upon.  Six of the nine Justices on the Court are Catholic, including Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote that brought favorable outcomes in two other cases regarding gay and lesbian equality.

Bourke and DeLeon, like many Catholic gay and lesbian couples, are leading dedicated lives of faith and service in a way that is both remarkable and ordinary.  But it sounds like the support of their pastor and parish are extraordinary in their support for this loving Catholic family.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Nigerian Bishop Compares Gay People to ‘Drug Addicts, Robbers, and Terrorists’

April 20, 2015

Bishop Emmanuel Badejo

The Vatican’s 2014 Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family left many LGBT advocates unimpressed, yet just the simple fact that this meeting named the realities of family life today has made many in the church’s hierarchy fearful.

Some bishops are using the interlude until next October’s Ordinary Synod to promote traditional agendas, yet, in doing so, they are ignoring the very realities identified last fall that must be addressed, and, if ignored,  can even cause tremendous harm.

In a recent interview, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria attacked LGBT rights in harsh and pastorally-damaging language. Badejo, who also heads communications for the African bishops, promised to oppose any openness to gay persons, telling Aleteia:

“[Gay people] have a right to be accepted as human beings. But there is a distinguishing factor between human rights and human behavior. I don’t have to accept homosexual behavior, just like I don’t have to accept drug addition [sic], robbery, and terrorism.”

He also suggested that homosexuality is “capable of being changed” and has “been proven on some levels of science to be pathological.” Badejo criticized Western governments for tying advances in LGBT rights to international aid, citing pressures on Uganda to overturn a proposed law criminalizing and severely punishing people who become known as lesbian or gay.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Raymond Burke told Italy’s La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana that members of the church are conspiring to promote a “gay agenda” at the upcoming Synod.  Crux reported on Burke’s interview, noting that he added that unnamed forces “want to discredit us who are trying to defend the Church’s teaching” and suggested LGBT people’s pastoral needs should not be discussed in a Synod devoted to family life.

In another synod-related case, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,  criticized Cardinal Reinhard Marx, German Bishops’ Conference president, who said the German church would “preach the Gospel in its own original way,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.   In discussing the differences raised at the synod, Marx said he did not want the German church to be seen as “a branch of Rome.”

In more positive remarks, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of London criticized several hundred English priests for publishing an open letter defending a traditionalist interpretation of human sexuality amid alleged confusion caused by the Synod. And Cardinal Walter Kasper, of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, one of the most outspoken advocates of mercy before last fall’s gathering, has called for prayer “because a battle is going on” between those seeking development from a living tradition and those bound to the past.

It appears bishops on all sides of controversial questions such as the recognition of same-sex relationships and LGBT pastoral care are increasingly preparing for heated discussions in October. The language is elevated, even hyperbolic, and the stakes are falsely understood to be a win-lose, as Cardinal Kasper’s words seem to suggest.

Theologian David Cloutier, Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Maryland, reminded readers at Catholic Moral Theology that understanding the Synod as a debate match is deeply problematic:

“The more the form of the discourse is a battle, with our words and ideas as the weapons, the more likely is polarization. The more the form is an attempt to deal with complex difficulties that cut in multiple directions, with our words and ideas as ways of better coming to grips with the full complexity of the matter, the more likely we will keep talking. Seems simple. But we humans do like battle…”

Instead of doing battle, church leaders should open themselves to the fullness of realities concerning family life today, reading these lived experiences through the light of a just and healing Gospel. Bishops should temper their words in coming months, focusing on their roles as pastoral leaders rather than ecclesial partisans and aim to build bridges rather than destroy perceived opposition.

As for those of us who are LGBT advocates, we can aid church leaders by sharing stories, preaching the inclusive Good News of Christ, listening to those who disagree, and fostering dialogue. New solutions rooted in compassion may burst forth through the apparent divisions come October. At the very least, we may curb the dangerous beliefs voiced by Bishop Badejo and Cardinal Burke that do great harm in social contexts where being openly LGBT can lead to great physical harm. We need to hold bishops accountable when they fail to be pastoral leaders for all God’s people.

There are about six months before synod participants reconvene in Rome. Let us hold up the goodness of LGBT people and their relationships and their families as educating lights for our church, especially our bishops. And let us never accept without resistance when these same bishops commit injustices. More than anything, let us pray and act so that between now and the Synod, we as the church will plant seeds for renewal and change that the bishops can harvest.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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