Millions worldwide marched yesterday for gender justice, affirming the dignity of women and the need for intersectional justice. But after marching, we now take the next steps towards attaining equal rights for people of all sexual and gender identities, as well as of all races, creeds, ethnic backgrounds, immigration statuses, income levels, and abilities. And a Twitter user, @JesusOfNaz316, has offered a fitting next step. At the beginning of 2017, he tweeted:
“Still looking for New Years Resolution? Try this. Oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of exclusion.”
The coming days and months will be difficult times not only to advance LGBT equality but to preserve what equality has already been attained. And we must similarly work for equality and freedom for all, making intersectionality a goal of our justice work. To focus our strategies, we can look to, spiritual leaders like Sr. Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus,” and we can try to find hope in these dark times. However we carry through on our promise, today is a great day to resolve (or re-commit) to opposing every form of exclusion harming God’s people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2017
As millions gather at “Women’s Marches” in cities across the U.S. and the globe to protest the new presidential administration in Washington, DC, it might be instructive for us to learn from a Catholic nun who has been an outspoken advocate for justice for decades: Sister Simone Campbell, SSS. In fact, she will be a speaker at the main Women’s March in Washington, DC today.
Sr. Simone, the “nun on the bus,” has been speaking passionately for many years now about issues of social justice such as poverty, health care, and military spending. Less well-known about her, though, is that she has also added her voice to discussions on LGBT equality. In 2010, she addressed a U.S. Congressional briefing about Catholic support for LGBT civil rights, including marriage equality. In 2015, she was a speaker at DignityUSA’s biennial convention for LGBT Catholics. And on April 28, 2017, she will be the leader of a retreat day focusing on social justice, spirituality, and LGBT issues, as a prelude to New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”
Sr. Simone was featured recently in a U.S. Catholic profile as part of their “Unexpected Women” series. Interestingly for today’s events, the writer of the profile, Jean P. Kelly, notes that she turned to Sr. Simone’s words for inspiration after being “paralyzed” when Kelly’s campaigning work “failed to result in the outcome I prayed for in the most recent presidential election.” Kelly listened to a podcast Sr. Simone had made which called for political action combined with deep contemplation. The podcast contained this advice:
“Faith [is] …groping in the dark and…listening for the nudges and paying attention….Religious life is about deep listening to the needs around us.”
Controversy is not a stranger to Sr. Simone, whose work, first as a lawyer, and then as the Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby founded by nuns. She rose to become almost a household name when she started the annual campaign “Nuns on the Bus,” in which religious women travel the nation to hold rallies and prayer services for social justice across the U.S.
Kelly gives a bit of the nun’s biography, explaining how social action and religious life melded for her:
“In her autobiography, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne), Campbell explains how her coming of age in the 1960s played a role in her decision to join a small community of religious founded in 1923 [Sisters of Social Service] with a ‘mission to be active in the world, a force for justice.’
” ‘That got them into trouble,’ Campbell says, ‘But I liked that. Jesus for me has always been about justice.’ “
Social action is only half of the equation, though, for Sr. Simone. Kelly explains:
“Though her role at NETWORK requires very public faith in action, it was surprising for me to learn that Sister Simone sees her vocation primarily as a contemplative. “It is the most sacred piece of who I am,” she says. Her community’s practice of meditation inspired her interest in Zen meditation, which she has says teaches her how to ‘live on the edge of awareness and insight, about myself and about the world.’ “
And as happens frequently with prophetic people, her stands have sometimes found her embroiled in controversies with the church hierarchy. But her stands are not based in opposition, as much as they are based in relationship. In her memoir, Sr. Simone states:
“No sister I know thinks she has the responsibility for the institution of the Church. Rather we walk with people in everyday life and try to live the Gospel in that context. This living reality gives us hearts of compassion for the struggle of our world….It appears that people find this attractive and describe it as spiritual leadership. The bishops, on the other hand, take their roles as chiefly one of protecting the institution. They live by rules and regulations that many people experience as judgmental and off-putting. It seems to me that some bishops are angry that the sisters are given a respect that the bishops think they alone deserve.”
Kelly notes that Sr. Simone offers great advice at times of discouragement. It seems that with the new presidential administration, we may be experiencing discouragement on LGBT topics, but also on more broader topics of health care, immigration, gender equality, and ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. During those times, it would be good to keep Sr. Simone’s advice in mind:
“The guilt—or the curse—of the progressive, the liberal, the whatever, is that we think we have to do it all. And then we get overwhelmed and don’t do anything. But that’s the mistake. Community is about just doing my part. Just do one thing.”
If you would like to experience more of Sr. Simone’s wisdom, consider attending the retreat day about social justice, spirituality, and LGBT issues she will be giving in advance of New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” The retreat day is Friday, April 28, 2017. The symposium begins on the evening of April 28th and runs until the afternoon of April 30th. All events are in Chicago. For more information, click here.
For more on developing a sense of hope in a dark time, read yesterday’s blog post by Robert Shine, in which he reflects on this topic.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 21, 2017
For U.S. LGBT advocates, and for so many others around the globe, the incoming U.S. President has turned the usually celebratory Inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. today into a time of mourning. In previous posts (here, here, and here), I have provided analyses of how LGBT Catholic issues may be affected by the political transition underway. Today, I offer a more personal reflection on sustaining hope and keeping focused on equality work for the long months ahead.
Already, the impending harm to LGBT rights is becoming clearer. Many nominees for the presidential Cabinet are radically opposed to equal rights. Ben Carson, nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has questioned the settled science about homosexual orientation, and he said LGBT people should not be afforded “extra rights.”
Nearly all the opposition to equality comes from professed Christians, including some Catholics. Steve Bannon, senior counselor and chief strategist at the White House, was raised Catholic, and he once managed a white supremacist publication which published many viciously anti-gay stories. Catholic campaign advisors for the incoming President included: former Senator Rick Santorum, who in 2003 compared being gay to bestiality, and who has long opposed LGBT equality issues; Joseph Cella, organizer of the right-wing National Catholic Prayer Breakfast where, last year, Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah said the push for transgender rights was “demonic.” It is clear, too, that the 2016 election has emboldened many national politicians and local officials who would curtail the rights of LGBT people and other vulnerable communities.
I am frightened by what this new presidential administration and its ripple effects will mean for people in this country, and I am frightened by what will happen globally when the U.S. government is no longer including LGBT equality as part of its work for human rights internationally. I am frightened, but I am hopeful. And I think hope must be our response if we are to find the resistance required of us now.
I began nurturing this hope while reading Pope Francis’ address to Vatican diplomats earlier this month. He did not speak directly to issues of gender and sexuality, but I find his words are readily applicable to our work:
“Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence. . .Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”
Pope Francis also enjoined religious and civil leaders to work together towards peace, saying that civil leaders are “charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society.” He continued by highlighting, in the light of faith, the many issues present in our world like the plight of refugees, the arms trade and nuclear weapons, and ecological devastation.
I wish Pope Francis would offer an explicit and firm condemnation of unjust situations where LGBT people are criminalized and threatened. We have to ensure Catholics do not use his troubling silence to justify support for anti-LGBT initiatives. We have to apply the pope’s broader message of mercy and justice to our struggle for LGBT equality.
Today, I find myself like the prophet Habbukuk, crying, “How long, O God, must I. . .cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you do not intervene?” Have we labored and sacrificed for so many days and at such great cost only to see our achievements ripped away? Days like today can cause us to doubt whether our efforts are worth it, and even question our faith and firmest commitments.
To respond to this dark foeboding, we must find within ourselves the hope that comes from intimately knowing Jesus, the Incarnate Word who pitched a tent in our midst so that God could share in our human experience. We have a responsibility to stop those who, in Pope Francis’ words, use our religious traditions “as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence.” We must ensure, in the United States and globally, that our Christian faith is never invoked by those who harm LGBT people.
I close with words from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a prophetic witness for both peace and LGBT justice, who said in his homily last week:
“When all of us really come to understand that this is our call [to love as fully and as far as we can], like that servant in Isaiah, we will be carrying the message of God’s love to the very ends of the earth. As we do this faithfully, then God’s will for our world will be fulfilled. We will transform our world into the reign of God where there will be peace and fullness of life for every person.
“During this Ordinary Time of the year, every Sunday now, we will be listening to ways of how to follow Jesus to bring his message, that important message of love into our life and into our world. If we’re faithful to our call, God’s reign will be breaking forth in our midst and we will be able to rid our world of the violence and the hatred that seems to be so much a part of it. I hope we hear this call and are faithful to it, and each week during this year listen deeply to God’s Word and try to follow that message of Jesus.”
While our liturgical readings may be for Ordinary Time, we begin today an extraordinary time which demands even greater faithfulness. May we find the hope we need today and every day to help the rainbows that signify God’s love break forth and pierce the darkening skies before us.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 20, 2017
A California education official who is a Catholic is opposing a new LGBT-inclusive curricula, and his opposition stems from a misuse of Scripture, leading him to ask rhetorically whether St. Paul was a homophobe or inspired by God.
Mike Dunn, president of the Conejo Valley School Board and a Catholic, has said he would not be voting for a proposed board policy to implement the state’s newly passed FAIR Act, a new law which adds LGBT information to history and social sciences curricula. The Thousand Oaks Acornreported:
“Responding last Thursday to a message from a parent criticizing Dunn, the longtime trustee says California’s new K-12 history-social science framework, which instructs teachers to include the accomplishments of LGBT individuals and other marginalized people in their lessons, conflicts with his Catholic faith. . .
“The framework, adopted by the California State Board of Education in July 2016, directs educators to study the stories of a ‘very diverse collection of families,’ including families with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parents. . .
“According to the framework, students should be able to ‘locate themselves and their own families in history and learn about the lives and historical struggles of their peers.'”
Dunn, a school board member for more than a decade, is fighting implementation of the state framework in his district. He claimed that his actions were rooted in his Catholic faith, and were helping to uphold the community’s beliefs:
“‘Where I spend eternity is far more important to me than being a school board trustee. . .If I ignore my Christian beliefs, what will happen to my soul when I die?’. . .
“‘I also believe that the community does not want homosexuality, bisexual and transgender (sic) taught to 7-year-old children.’. . .I am also sensitive to the reaction from mothers if we start promoting homosexuality.'”
The Board president’s reasoning is rooted in his interpretation of Scripture, specifically the Pauline epistles which he said “conflict with the state history framework” and commented further, “Is the apostle Paul a homophobe or was he inspired by God?”
According to the Thousand Oak Acorn, Dunn has previously opposed “a new state-mandated sexual education curriculum” and “refused to vote on a change to district policy that allowed transgender students to play on sports teams” consistent with their gender.
Dunn’s peers do not agree with him. Randy Smith, president of the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers, said nothing specific about Dunn’s response, but did say it was “of paramount importance” for the school district to comply with state law. Betsy Connolly, a member of the school board, said:
“‘I see no problem with a person’s faith informing their decision-making process. I expect it to. What I have a problem with is when people cherry-pick faith and facts to support their perspective. . .It’s an important distinction.'”
Connolly also told CBS 2that schools must not only tell “the typical story” about families, so that students with parents in a same-gender relationship or who have a disability do not feel “at best invisible, at worst, shamed.”
In my view, Dunn’s opposition to the FAIR Act in California has relied on an interpretation of Scripture inconsistent with contemporary scholarship. In recent decades, responsible scholars have repeatedly disproven the idea that Paul’s writings in the New Testament condemn the modern understanding of homosexuality. Vatican II’s document on divine revelation in Scripture, Dei Verbum, expresses clearly how Catholics are to approach the Bible:
“[T]he interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.”
Connolly’s observation that a school board president has cherry-picked faith and facts to justify his opposition to LGBT equality is extremely accurate. Mike Dunn’s stance will stymie greater inclusion of and protections for all students and their families. His concern for his own salvation should not be allowed to cause harm to students.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 19, 2017
Ever since it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Tobin would replace Archbishop John Myers as the leader of the Church in Newark, New Jersey, many people have asked me if I thought that meant that Fr. Warren Hall would be reinstated as a priest there.
Some of you may recall that Hall was suspended from priestly ministry by Myers at the end of last summer. The Archdiocese of Newark said that the suspension was because of Hall’s support of LGBT organizations, though Hall saw his outreach to LGBT people and groups as part of his ministry. The archdiocese’s disagreements with Hall began in 2015 when they removed him as chaplain at Seton Hall University because of his support of the “NOH8” campaign and re-assigned him to the Hoboken parish of Sts. Peter and Paul. Soon after that re-assignment, Fr. Hall came out as gay in a journalistic interview.
Since Hall’s suspension of priestly faculties came well after Myers had submitted his resignation, many people, including me, thought that a new archbishop might reinstate him.
However, Hall, in an op-ed he penned forReligion News Service, recently announced that the possibility of reinstatement is not something that he would like to pursue. Hall explains how he came to the decision, first tracing the history of how things have transpired:
It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.
It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.
Hall said he has spent the intervening months discerning whether he should request reinstatement, something that his family, friends, and parishioners were encouraging him to do. But then another incident happened which decided his position:
“. . . [A]s I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.
How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.
In describing his ministry to LGBT people, Hall emphasizes a point that all who minister with LGBT people encounter: engaging in ministry means encountering people who do not always agree with church doctrine:
The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!
And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”
Hall acknowledges that the church’s language of “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” are offensive, but he believes that in the future these terms will change. Unfortunately, though the current language prevents him from seeking reinstatement:
I can’t [seek reinstatement], simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”
He recognizes that the teaching on sexuality is not the most important one, and he wishes church leadership would focus on more primary concerns:
I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.
It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves!
Hall also asserts another important idea that seems to have played a role in his decision:
I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.
I’ve excerpted what I consider the highlights of Hall’s essay, If you are interested in LGBT pastoral ministry or the issue of gay priests, I recommend that you read the entire essay by clicking here.
The Catholic Church is diminished by the loss of Warren Hall from the priesthood. Having met him personally, I know that he is a faith-filled person who responds to others with love, compassion, and justice. Obviously, the decision not to seek reinstatement was a difficult one for him, but he has done so with integrity. I was happy to read at the end of his essay that he plans to continue his ministry as a Catholic lay person:
I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.
In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Hall will be leading a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life” atNew Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” We had invited him before his suspension, and now we think his words will be even more prescient. For more information about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.
While most people in the United States were enjoying turkey with all the trimmings last Thanksgiving Day, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, was feasting instead on pierogi (dumplings), golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves), kapusta (sauerkraut), and babka (bread). Far from flouting custom, she was honoring tradition and her ancestral roots by spending Thanksgiving Day in Poland.
She was invited for a week-long speaking tour about Catholic LGBT issues, sponsored by the country’s leading LGBT equality organization, “Campaign Against Homophobia,” and its main Christian groups, “Faith and Rainbow” and “Tolerado.” She gave three public presentations, 14 interviews with radio, TV, or print journalists, a retreat for LGBT Christians, and spoke personally with countless individual Poles, including the Secretary General of Poland’s organization for nuns’ communities.
Traveling to Poland’s three leading cities–Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk–Sister Jeannine spread the message that she has been spreading for over 45 years: God has unconditional love for LGBT people and it is the church’s job to make that love real by working for justice and equality.
In the homeland of Pope John Paul II, journalists naturally questioned Gramick about her opinions on both the former pope and his current successor. Initially, she said, she had great enthusiasm for John Paul when he was elected. She felt great pride because of her own Polish heritage, but that quickly dissipated. While he called for justice in the secular arena, he was adamantly opposed to any discussion of injustice within the church’s walls. Moreover, she disagreed with John Paul’s views about sexuality, expressed in his talks on the “Theology of the Body,” stating that his notions about gender complementarity made no sense at all to women.
Concerning Pope Francis, she is more optimistic. In an interview with Queer.pl, she said,
“I think his emphasis is in the right place. He is emphasizing the heart, not the head. He speaks often about dialogue and getting to know LGBT people, even though he maintains that he will not change church teaching (on sexual ethics). I believe that it is most important to first talk with people and thus open people’s hearts. Change (in sexual ethics) will come after there is a change of heart.”
In an interview with Kobieta.wp.pl, Sister Jeannine described what motivated her to become involved in this ministry. She began her work in 1971 when she met a young gay man who had left the Catholic Church. After many discussions with him and his friends, she realized that Catholics needed to be educated about LGBT lives. She explained:
“I wanted to give a voice to those in the Church who could not speak for themselves. I believe LGBT people, just as any of the faithful, should have their rightful place in this institution…
“I’ve always been interested in those who are overlooked by society. If you read the Bible, you know that Jesus came to defend the outcasts. Another issue for me is conscience. Sometimes your conscience guides you to differ with the church hierarchy…the only thing that should concern us is love and helping others.”
When asked by Queer.plabout her impressions of LGBT issues in Poland, Sister Jeannine responded:
“I’m very surprised, in a positive sense, about what I’ve seen and experienced in Poland. There is more talk about LGBT people than I had anticipated. I’ve seen great acceptance among Catholics, even among priests. They are beginning to understand that this is an important issue of human rights.”
She noted that Catholic lay people in the U.S. and many other nations are much more supportive of LGBT people than the Catholic hierarchy. She felt that the “hierarchy of the Church is responsible for the administration of the community, but they should also feel a responsibility to listen to the people.”
The Campaign Against Homophobia and Faith and Rainbow, two organizations that sponsored Sr. Jeannine’s speaking tour in Poland, launched a nationwide reconciliation campaign last September. “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” posted billboards all over Poland depicting a handshake in which one hand wore a rosary around the wrist and the other wore a rainbow bracelet. While Polish bishops decried the efforts, the Polish citizenry responded quite positively. Many prominent Catholics and several Catholic publications supported the effort.
Sister Jeannine’s lecture series built on so much of the enormous work already done by these organizations and their supporters—efforts that Sister Jeannine feels will bring about many blessings. When asked about the situation in the U.S. in the future, she responded that the mission may become more difficult to accomplish in the new presidential administration, but like her friends in Poland, she is ready to keep on working. To Weekend.gazeta.pl, she said:
“Good work will go forward because the hearts and minds of people who support the LGBT community have been changed. These hearts and minds were opened and are no longer shut. We will not step back. It will be much harder. But we can handle it. We have to.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 17, 2017
Today, people in the United States are not only remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., but celebrating Religious Freedom Day. Both commemorations have renewed meaning with an anti-equality presidential administration taking office in less than a week. It is thus an opportune day for Catholic LGBT advocates to reflect anew on two groundbreaking documents so we can reclaim religious freedom as a progressive and Catholic value.
Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow for religious freedom at the think tank Political Research Associates, wrote an informative article on why religious freedom is indeed a progressive value. Civil rights and religious freedom are the “complementary values and legal principles necessary to sustain and advance equality for all” and is “one of the most liberatory ideas in history.” Clarkson continued:
“Religious freedom is a powerful idea—the stuff from which revolutions are sometimes made. It includes the right of individual conscience—to believe or not believe as we choose, without undue influence from government or powerful religious institutions, and to practice our beliefs free from the same constraints. It’s no surprise that the first part of the First Amendment guarantees freedom of belief.”
Clarkson offered a historical understanding for religious freedom. In the U.S., the history of this concept begins with the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, whose anniversary is celebrated today. At that time in Virginia, the Anglican ruling class was oppressively using religion to retain political power. Civil courts would prosecute those accused of religious infractions, and vigilantes harmed non-Anglican Christians and others. The Statute was a groundbreaking attack against such abuses, and it would go on to inform the U.S. Constitution and legal precedents ever since.
For the nation’s Founders, protection of religious freedom was “synonymous,” in Clarkson’s words, with protections for individual consciences. Taken together, these constituted “a natural and absolute right,” one which has helped progressive movements throughout U.S. history, including the abolition of slavery, the organization of labor, and efforts for gender and racial equality. In summary, religious freedom has gone from an idea expressed locally in the the Virginia Statute to a human right defined globally by the United Nations, and has remained in each historical moment a clear progressive value.
But religious conservatives, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, are misusing this powerful idea and stunting the flourishing of marginalized communities in the process. In the past, segregationists claimed religious freedom to oppose interracial marriage; in the present, those opposed to LGBT rights have claimed religious freedom to fight marriage equality and transgender accommodations.
Since 2012, the U.S. bishops have focused their annual “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign on gender and sexuality issues yet have failed to address real threats to religious freedom experienced by, for instance, Muslims in the U.S. or Christians in the Middle East. They and their conservative associates from other denominations are actually harming real religious freedom. Clarkson observed that this type of strategy is similar to what was happening in the 1780s when the movement for the religious freedom statute was originated:
“Aspiring clerical aristocrats debase the idea of religious freedom when they use it as tool to seek exemptions from the generally applicable laws of the United States—particularly those that prohibit discrimination.”
Catholics in the U.S. have largely ignored the bishops’ campaign, and overwhelmingly support LGBT equality. The behavior of Catholic lay people shows that religious freedom is not only a progressive value but a very Catholic one.
Religious freedom was not formally defined as Catholic teaching until Vatican II with the promulgation of Dignatitis Humanae in 1965. This Declaration on Religious Freedom, which was the U.S. hierarchy’s main contribution to the Council and relied on the once-censored writings of Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray, was in its own way groundbreaking. No longer did the Catholic Church endorse the “confessional State,” in which civil laws mirrored ecclesial teaching, as the ideal. Even Pope Benedict XVI has identified this teaching on religious freedom as one of Vatican II’s top contributions.
Our Catholic understanding of religious freedom protects individual consciences, and Catholics have affirmed a form of religious freedom from our earliest days by teaching the primacy of conscience. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes t noted, it is in conscience, this “most secret core and sanctuary” of our beings, alone with a God “whose voice echoes in [a person’s] depths,” where we make concrete judgments about how to live. To act against one’s conscience is wrong. Dignitatis Humanae made this foundational principle explicit in a political sense, positioning religious freedom as a Catholic value.
In a separate article for Religion News Service, Clarkson noted Dr. King’s own reference to religious freedom as a key influence for the civil rights movement. To these secular precedents–Dr. King’s support for religious freedom and the Virginia Statute this Religious Freedom Day–we as Catholics’, need to add Dignitatis Humanae and the primacy of conscience. These are rich writings and witnesses for us to reflect on today.
And reflect we must. As I wrote about earlier this month, here and here, 2017 will be a year of struggle for LGBT equality under the incoming political leadership in the U.S. Already being considered is the First Amendment Defense Act, which is an effort to undermine civil rights by creating broad religious exemptions in federal law, allowing for greater discrimination. The need for LGBT advocates and other justice seekers to reclaim religious freedom in the United States from religious conservatives has never been so urgent.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 16, 2017