LGBT Insights from the Pew Survey of U.S. Catholics for Pope Francis’ Visit

September 5, 2015

As the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to the U.S. approach, a new Pew Forum poll revealed that the majority of U.S. Catholics’ support nontraditional families. When it comes to LGBT issues specifically, we might have to dig a little deeper to understand the significance of the numbers.

First lets look at some of the facts from the Pew Research Center’s “2015 Survey of U.S. Catholics and Family Life.” Of the 1,016 self-identified Catholics surveyed:

  • 70% accept cohabiting same-sex couples;
  • 66% accept same-sex couples raising children, including 43% who believe this is as good as any other arrangement;
  • 46% believe the church should recognize same-sex marriages.

Reading through the report, I thought Catholic numbers about LGBT families were somewhat down from other surveys. Here are a few thoughts about what is going on and why any conversations about family life should critically use such data, but to do so with some caution.

First, the Pew Research Center splices and dices U.S. Catholicism into groupings. They separate those who attend Mass weekly from those who do not. They separate Catholics from cultural Catholics and from ex-Catholics. Sometimes, sociologically, these are helpful, if imperfect, categorizations, but we cannot rely on them to tell the People of God’s story.

Mass attendance does not a Catholic make. We are united as the Body of Christ through baptism, whether we attend weekly liturgies or have not stepped foot in a church for years. Some of the most faithful Catholics I know, who have offered their entire lives to God, do not attend Mass weekly. And some weekly Mass attendees stop living their faith after that hour on Sunday.

Faith journeys, if embraced with critical reason and open to the mystery of God, may shift us from “Catholic” to “ex-Catholic” and back again over the course of several years or even decades. These categories do not allow for the tenuous relationship with the church so many have, or for our prioritization of being faithful to God as known through Christ rather than adherence to the edicts of human beings. They do not emphasize those who choose to be foremost catholic instead of Roman Catholic or those who yearn to come home, but are kept out.

Second, those identifying as cultural Catholic or ex-Catholic are far more affirming of LGBT issues. The church should listen closely. There are countless reasons why someone raised Catholic decides to leave the church (often to join another faith community), but high among these reasons is the hierarchy’s condemnation of LGBT people and its public campaigning against equal rights. Simply writing off their views because they are “non-practicing” does not allow the true costs of the bishops’ LGBT-negative views to sink in. These costs have included not only damage to LGBT people and their families, but the deep harm such views have inflicted on the church as a whole.

Third, 45% of the American population has a Catholic connection. Pew’s categorization attempts do reveal the interesting reality that when Catholic parents, spouses, and personal religious histories are included, almost half the U.S. population is heavily influenced by Catholicism. I bet this bumps higher if Catholic school is added to the mix. Further evidence for the truism that where there are Catholics so is there greater LGBT equality? I think so.

Fourth, age matters. The younger the Catholic, the more affirming they are. 63% of Millennials (those ages 18-29) say same-sex relationships are equivalent to opposite sex ones. Only 16% of this age bracket condemn same-sex couples compared to 38% of those over 65. The overall acceptance of such couples may be 46%, but pure demographics mean it will not be long before that number tops 50% and keeps climbing.

Fifth, while 44% of Catholics surveyed believe homosexual behavior is a sin, there are 39% who say it is not. For whatever reason, Pew does not include demographic breakdowns among Catholics for this statistic. From everything else I know, I bet age matters here most of all. Millennials overwhelmingly understand oft-repeated refrains: “love is love,” and “love wins.”

Sixth, Hispanic youth are the central question when it comes to age. Hispanic Catholics will be the majority of U.S. Catholics in just a few years. According to some surveys, Hispanic Catholic adults are less affirming of homosexuality than their counterparts, but whether emerging generations will tend towards their parents’ beliefs or those of their more affirming non-Hispanic peers is unclear.

Seventh, U.S. Catholics surveyed are overwhelmingly more accepting of heterosexual ‘sins’ like cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, or the use of artificial contraception. Given that only 4% of Catholics identified as LGB in Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscapes survey, these current numbers suggest people are far more lenient when it comes to their own sins. Might they be a little biased?

Eighth, 42% of Millennials expect the church will recognize same-sex marriages by 2050 and 36% of all Catholics surveyed agree. Could there be ecclesial recognition in just 35 years? A not negligible number of younger Catholics think so — and they will be the ones rising to leadership in coming years.

Ninth, this same group of under-30 Catholics is also far more willing to leave the Catholic Church if they have not done so already. 41% say “they could see themselves leaving the church,” reported Pew, and if LGBT equality changes are not forthcoming, many of them very well may walk away.

Tenth, the Pew numbers reveal Catholics  love their church and have hopes it will change, but they are refusing to tolerate intolerance much longer. As Pope Francis prepares for his first trip ever to the United States, he should consider first just how affirming and inclusive U.S. Catholics really are, and  the precarious position the U.S. bishops put this national church in by their unceasing campaign against LGBT justice and inclusion.

For ongoing LGBT-related updates for the World Meeting of Families, papal visit, and Synod of Bishops in October, subscribe to the blog (for free) by typing your email address in the “Follow” box in the upper right-hand corner of this page, and then click the “Follow” button.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Most US Catholics are fine with nontraditional families”

Fired Teacher “Overjoyed” by Catholic School’s New LGBT Policy; School Apologizes While Diocese Remains Quiet

September 4, 2015

Statue of the foundress of St. Mary’s Academy’s sponsoring congregation dressed in rainbow garb by students

The decision by Portland, Oregon’s St. Mary’s Academy to positively alter its employment policies after firing a gay staff member was a landmark step. That shift was prompted by a school community which rallied quickly against injustice, and an administration open to new ways of being the church.

While Lauren Brown,  the staff member in question, is “overjoyed” by this decision, and the school is apologizing for its original misstep, Archbishop Alexander Sample and the Diocese of Portland have not yet made a statement of opinion on the matter.

Brown, the lesbian counselor who was essentially fired by having her contract withdrawn by administrators before she started her job told The Willamette Weekly:

“The students, parents, and alumni of St. Mary’s Academy should be so proud today. In 24 hours, they came together to speak up for what they know is right. This success shows that together we really can move mountains. I hope other places in the U.S. and around the world will take notice and feel encouraged by what happened here in Portland. We are all agents of change when we put forth the effort.”

Brown noted that although her initial employment position has been filled, she is “open to listening” to the school’s promise of reconciliation. She affirmed that her “intuition about St. Mary’s Academy [being a safe and loving community] was true all along” and is glad that the discrimination she experienced will never happen again.

DignityUSA’s executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke echoed Brown’s laudatory statement, saying in a statement:

“That St. Mary’s Academy had the courage to look at their action in the light of their values, reverse it, and take steps to ensure that their future policies are rooted in respect and inclusion is a wonderful model.”

New Ways Ministry’s executive director Francis DeBernardo told The Huffington Post he did not know of any other school which had acted thus. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on St. Mary’s decision by clicking here.  You can find our listing of the more than fifty church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008 by clicking here.

Lauren Brown marching in a pride parade

For its part, St. Mary’s Academy is apologizing to the school community for its actions against Brown, reported The Willamette Weekly. The statement said, in part:

“We are deeply sorry for the great pain and turmoil within the St. Mary’s community over the past few days. We recognize that this has not been an easy time and thank you for your understanding, patience, and openness with us during this unprecedented journey.”

LGBT employee protections are, however, still lacking at other Catholic schools in the area and nationwide. Brown’s case could shift this locally, suggested University of Portland visiting theologian Rene Sanchez. She told The Willamette Weekly that it is likely to happen, if not immediately:

“Eventually, there’s going be a shift toward greater acceptance and embracing all of those communities. . .This is not a year-or-two thing.”

While lacking explicit protections, some regional high schools stated that sexual orientation is irrelevant in their hiring processes. Paul Hogan, principal of Jesuit High School, told GoLocalPDX said questions about sexuality would be inappropriate there though he welcomed staff engaging in conversations with students so they can “explore their identities. . .explore all the different parts of themselves.”

Change could by stymied by the diocese, led by Archbishop Sample, which is refusing to clearly comment on St. Mary’s decision. The Huffington Post reports:

” ‘The Archdiocese is aware of the decision made by St. Mary’s Academy, and will continue our conversation with school officials,’ David J. Renshaw, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Portland, wrote in an email. Asked whether the school may lose its Catholic affiliation, Renshaw declined to say. ‘As the statement indicates, conversations are ongoing.  We all hope for the best resolution.’ “

Speaking to ThinkProgress, Renshaw added that “Canon law does say that the bishop does have oversight or jurisdiction” over the school.  In part, this means that under canon law, he can revoke the school’s canonical status. Whether or not this will happen, and how St. Mary’s will act in the future, is uncertain, but church officials should think closely about the intense and immediate backlash to Brown’s expulsion before choosing to defend discrimination again.

But what if the school’s initial exclusion of Lauren Brown was the final salvo in this larger dispute about LGBT and ally church workers. One blogger at AfterEllen certainly hopes so–primarily for the well being of LGBTQ youth:

“Maybe this long-standing battle of wills between the Catholic church and its LGBT parishioners can one day come to an end. And it’s a good thing, because this tension, this ingrained fear and inequality, is damaging to all, especially young, queer Catholics. . .

“I left the church because I felt I was less than for being a lesbian. I don’t want more kids growing up thinking their God and their Church only loves them if they keep themselves a secret. . .The difference will come from everyday Catholics, including young, queer ones, who keep standing up and keep asking questions. You are not less than, even if it sometimes feels like it.”

LGBTQ youth are victims, as are their teachers, ministers, and allies who happen to work for the church. Expanded marriage rights are wonderful, but without accompanying non-discrimination protections, LGBT church workers remain incredibly vulnerable to the wills of local church officials.

Francis DeBernardo and I often encourage Bondings 2.0’s readers to implement LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies at your Catholic institutions. I want to reiterate their importance in light of St. Mary’s Academy’s decision. Sadly, having followed church worker issues since 2012, I doubt Lauren Brown will be the last church worker to lose their job for being gay. But step by step, policy by policy, we can move our church towards a more just and inclusive version of itself.

To get started on an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency, contact New Ways Ministry at or (301) 277-5674. You can also find more information on making this change here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Intervention Causes Bishop to (Again) Reject Trans* Man as Godparent

September 3, 2015

Alex Salinas

The Vatican has intervened to prevent a transgender man in Spain from being a godparent, causing the local bishop to again reverse his decision in the case, just as plans for the baptism were moving forward.

Initially rejected for being transgender, a decision which Alex Salinas said felt like a “kick in the stomach,” the young Spanish trans* won an appeal to Bishop Rafael Zornoza of the Diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta. The bishop approved Salinas’ request to be his nephew’s godparent in August. Bondings 2.0 highlighted the bishop’s decisions as one of several positive trans* Catholic developments at the time.

Zornoza is now saying “no” again. Salinas confirmed the second rejection to RTVE, saying the bishop called him on the very day they were going to the parish to confirm the baptism date and time. The bishop told Salinas, without providing any reason, that he could not be the godparent .

The reason is apparent now that Bishop Zornoza has admitted that he consulted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).  The Vatican office said “publicly and definitely” in a statement that transsexual Catholics are ineligible. The following is part of the CDF’s response, as cited by the bishop and translated into English:

“About this particular matter [i.e., a transsexual person being a godparnet], I communicate to you the impossibility that it is admitted. The same transexual behavior reveals, in a public manner, an attitude opposed to the moral demand of resolving the problem of one’s own sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sex. Therefore, the result is evident that this person does not possess the requisite of leading a life conformed to the faith and to the position of godfather (CIC, can 874 §1,3), therefore is not able to be admitted to the position of godmother nor godfather. One should not see this as discrimination, but only the recognition of an objective absence of the requisites that by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godparent.”

According to Zornoza, the CDF consultation was necessary because of “confusion” by the faithful about his own words and the media attention surrounding Salinas’ case.

The bishop also cited Popes Francis and Benedict XVI to justify his rejection, claiming Francis believes “this behavior is contrary to human nature” because of several sentences in the pope’s recent encyclical on care for creation, Laudato Si. Zornoza explained:

“Acceptance of one’s body as a gift of God is necessary to receive and accept the world as a gift of the Father and our common home, while a logic of domination over the body itself becomes a sometimes subtle logic of dominion over creation. Learning to receive the body itself, to care for and respect its meanings is essential for a true human ecology. Also assessing the body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary to recognize an encounter with the different. This makes it possible to joyfully accept the specific gift of the other , the work of God the Creator, and enrich one another. Therefore, it is not a healthy attitude that seeks to ‘cancel the sexual difference that no longer knows confront the same’ ( Laudato Si, n.155) .”

I quoted these explanations from the CDF and Zornoza at length because the incoherence of these statements and their underlying logic becomes readily apparent to trans* people and their allies. Those who live openly as their understood gender identities are not living in opposition to resolving their sexual identity nor are they failing to accept their bodies as gifts from God.

Instead the trans* Catholics I know are people who have come to accept their bodies as gifts from God in the deepest way. They have, frequently through intense struggle and suffering, learned to receive their bodies, to care for them, to respect them, and to develop a healthy human ecology in their relationships. The dark reality is that religious condemnation, like the CDF’s or Zornoza’s, is what can create disintegration of one’s identity and dissociation with one’s body. This is true for trans* and cisgender people alike.

The CDF can claim that not including trans* Catholics as godparents is not discrimination, but that doesn’t make it that statement true.  Their statement is marked by an exclusion that is at odds with Jesus’ welcome to all. Bishop Zornoza’s claim that the church welcomes all and accompanies all with mercy ring hollow in light of his latest decision.

This incident also reveals a church in deep tension in the church during this era of Pope Francis who has repeatedly reached out to trans* Catholics. But what is still most painful in this incident is the personal dimension: the harm done to Alex Salinas and his family.

A faithful trans* Catholic, Salinas has experienced the violence of exclusion, and he says, understandably, that he is “disgusted” and “feels cheated by the parish priest, the bishop of Rome” because he was rejected, then approved, and now rejected again. Salinas’ family now says they will not baptize his nephew in the Catholic Church but will raise the child elsewhere in the Christian faith. Is the CDF’s restrictive version of Canon Law worth these costs? One more reversal from Zornoza seems the only right way to proceed.

For more updates on trans Catholic issues, check out our “Transgender” category in the column to the right.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Receives Bishop Jacques Gaillot–A French Bishop Who Blesses Gay Couples

September 2, 2015

Bishop Jacques Gaillot, who was removed from his diocese in France in 1995, in part for blessing the union of a gay couple, was received at the Vatican by Pope Francis, ending two decades of exclusion from official church activities.

Bishop Jacques Gaillot–received at the Vatican, at long last!

Bishop Gaillot, who has the head of the northern French diocese of Evreux until being demoted by Pope John Paul II, spoke with Pope Francis about many marginalized groups.  According to Agence France Presse (AFP)he “defended the rights of homosexuals, divorced people and migrants.”

According to the news report, Gaillot recounted his conversation with Pope Francis to the AFP reporter :

” ‘I don’t want to ask anything of you, I told the pope, but a whole people of the poor are happy that you are receiving me, and feel acknowledged too,’ Gaillot said.

” ‘I spoke to him about… the sick, the divorced, gay people. These people are counting on you.’

“The 79-year-old said he had told the pope how he had recently blessed a divorced couple as well as a homosexual couple, saying ‘he listened, he is open to all those things. He said that to bless is to speak well of God to people.’ “

And Pope Francis affirmed his ministry, according to the French bishop:

“Gaillot said he now devotes much of his time to helping and defending migrants and the pope, he said, told him ‘continue, what you do (for the downtrodden) is good.’ “

Since being deposed as Bishop of Evreux, Gaillot has remained active  by maintaining a website,, where he defended marginalized groups.  Partenia is the name of a now defunct ancient diocese which existed in the early centuries of Christianity in Algeria.  An Ouest-France  news report (with an English translation provided by a Bondings 2.0 reader) noted:

“Trying to convey something of the unprecedented nature of the situation and of pope Francis’ sense of humour Gaillot said, ‘the pope told me with a smile: I speak to the bishop of Partenia.’ “

The same news report also pointed out:

“The meeting took place at Pope Francis’ request, who left two messages on Gaillot’s answering machine during the Summer, before writing to formally invite him to the Vatican.”

Perhaps the most significant part of Gaillot’s account of describing his blessing of gay couples to Pope Francis:

” ‘I am in civil cloth and I just bless them. This is not a marriage, it is a blessing. We have the right to give the blessing of God, after all we also bless houses! The pope listened, he seemed open to all that. At that particular moment, he specifically said that to bless people also involves to speak well of God to those people,’ said the French prelate.”

The article on Gaillot described some of the actions which lead to his ouster over two decades ago, including the blessing of a gay couple:

“In 1988, during a closed-door session of the assembly in Lourdes, he advocated the ordination of married men to the priesthood. After the proceedings had finished Gaillot spoke to the press about the discussions held and also promoted his own viewpoints. By promoting a revision of clerical celibacy and the use of condoms, he caused considerable tension with the French bishops’ conference, the situation being exacerbated by the fact that in speaking to the media about the session, Gaillot had violated convention regarding assembly conclaves. He later defended his previous actions, remarking that ‘I never broke the vow of celibacy … I only questioned it. But that’s worse.’ Also that year, Gaillot took the unprecedented step for a Roman Catholic bishop of blessing a homosexual union in a ‘service of welcoming,’ after the couple requested it in view of their imminent death from AIDS.”

This Wikipedia article also noted that Gaillot expressed public support for marriage equality when France legalized it in 2012.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Gaillot in Rome in the year 2000.  The occasion was the conference on religion and homosexuality at the first World Pride event.  I gave the opening address to the meeting, and, saving the best for last, Gaillot was to give the closing speech.  Unfortunately, the day before the conference, he received word that the Vatican ordered him not to give the speech.  Bishop Gaillot was unflustered.

The unusual thing about this Vatican action was that the hotel which was hosting the conference was a five-minute walk from the Vatican, yet the order, which came from Pope John Paul, was first sent to the Congregation of Bishops, who then called the president of the French bishops conference in Paris, who then called the then-current Bishop of Evreux, who then made a phone call from France to Bishop Gaillot in Rome.   Everyone laughed, including Gaillot, that if the pope wanted to give him this order, he could have simply walked a few blocks to speak with him in person.

Fifteen years after this strange communication incident, the new pope in Rome showed how important ordinary communication with a fellow human being is–especially for the necessary Christian act of reconciliation.  The Ouest-France news report described the very ordinary, humble and human way Gaillot’s visit with Pope Francis occurred:

“Gaillot, 79, in a black suit but without any pectoral cross, said he was greatly surprised by how informally Francis received him in the Vatican: ‘I was in one of the common room of St Martha’s House (where the Pope resides), a door opened and the pope simply came in. The meeting was carried out as if I was family, without any protocol. He truly is a free man. At one point, he stood up and said: Do you have a photographer? As I had none and there was none around who was available, we took (a photo) with a cell phone.’ “

An ordinary encounter between two human beings.  How our church leaders need to do so much more of this!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Swiss Bishops Offer Supportive Comments After Another Bishop’s Error

September 1, 2015

Bishop Markus Büchel, center, at an ordination

A Swiss bishop who was criticized for remarks deemed by some as advocating the death penalty for lesbian and gay people has apologized. His remorse has stopped neither public criticism from fellow prelates, who released pastoral appeals in the wake of this controversy, nor the filing of criminal charges.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur quoted Leviticus in a July address at a conference of German-speaking traditionalist Catholics. Though he technically never suggested gay people should be executed, Bondings 2.0 noted at the time, his irresponsible language makes that interpretation extremely easy. After facing criticism, he apologized, reported The

“In a three-page letter sent to 800 of his colleagues, including priests and employees, on Wednesday night, Huonder apologized ‘to everyone who felt injured by my speech, in particular those of homosexual persuasion,’ reported Swiss news agency ATS on Thursday.

“The 73-year-old said it was a ‘mistake’ to write his speech purely ‘on a theological and academic level’. . .He also regretted writing it during the summer holidays when there was no one around to read it over for him.”

In response, at least two bishops criticized Huonder’s comments indirectly by offering pastoral appeals. Bishop Markus Büchel of St. Gallen, who is also head of the Swiss Bishops Conference, wrote a letter to pastoral workers after many expressed concerns about Huonder’s comments. reported that he said that it was important in a sexual relationship was how a person responsibly uses sexuality, not whether that person is heterosexual or homosexual.  He encouraged Catholics to rely on their individual consciences.

Later he noted: ‘We are look forward to every relationship in which the partners accept each other as equal, valuable, beloved children of God and respect the dignity of others!’ ”

As for the church’s place when it comes to homosexuality:

“Büchel sees it as a task of the Church to accompany people on their way,’on which they can integrate their sexuality as a gift of God in their lives and their relations.” The Church must deal with the historical burdens of homosexuality and consciously develop ‘a new, human, and proper language.”

Büchel also spoke about Scriptural interpretation and contemporary understandings of homosexuality, affirming that “current knowledge about homosexuality as a constitutent part of personality, and not freely chosen, was not known at the time of the Bible.” The full letter, in German, is available here and Bondings 2.0 would welcome a more thorough translation of it from any of our German-speaking readers.

Abbot Urban Federer

A second episcopal response came from Abbot Urban Federer of Ensiedeln, who said church leaders should be for something, not against something. His first response to an email inquiry about “Why the Catholic Church condemns homosexuals?” was to simply quote the Catechism’s language about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Yet Federer felt that quoting the Catechism was not a sufficient response for this situation, so he reinterpreted the Leviticus passage more affirmingly on the abbey’s website, which you can find here in German, with a simple translation following:

“Although the passages condemn sexual intercourse among people of the same sex, they are not against homosexuality, which was not yet known in this ancient time. Therefore such passages can hardly be used to assess current issues!

He continued by saying that homosexuality “will occupy the church for a long time,” and he noted the Swiss bishops’ 2002 decision to support same-sex unions so that lesbian and gay people could be protected from discrimination. But Federer noted the church needs to do more,  citing a public letter to Huonder by the rapper Gimma to ask:

“Can the Church really and so loudly put a minus in front of homosexuality?. . .Gimma’s reaction is a provocative question for the Church: Should the Church not be used for people, for the dignity of gays and lesbians, rather than take action against certain people? The frank words of Gimma make me pensive and call me to more modesty.”

Finally, Federer turned to Pope Francis’ views on homosexuality:

“The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God! Did not Pope Francis already show the Church how to deal with homosexuals in the right manner? In his first press conference as the head of Roman Catholic Church, he promoted the idea not to discriminate against male and female homosexuals. Verbatim, the Pope asked: ‘When a person is homosexual and seeks God and is of good will, who am I to judge?’ “

Bishop Huonder’s apology was also roundly criticized by LGBT groups. Pink Cross, an umbrella organization for several Swiss LGBT groups, filed a criminal complaint against Huonder in August for “inciting people to crime or violence” according to Newsweek. Bastian Baumann, director of Pink Cross, explained the bishop crossed a “red line” given his authority and exhortation to literal interpretation of Scripture:

“We believe in freedom of expression, and taking quotes from the bible is fine. . .But then he said the words should be applied to real life, which is the equivalent of calling for the death penalty for gay people. We were worried about that. He is the leader of a big church, and he was calling for people to follow his words, and we thought this could be dangerous.”

Baumann further rejected Huonder’s apology because “there was no misunderstanding” his remarks. If found guilty in this complaint, the bishop could face a prison sentence of up to three years.

What to make of all this?

My first reaction is that this is simply a reminder that God draws good out of bad situations. For as strikingly painful as Bishop Huonder’s citation of Leviticus was, the critical and pastoral responses from his colleagues are doubly positive. How simply refreshing to hear a bishop say, “The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God!”

Second, it is good to see bishops who are willing to criticize a colleague whose behavior or statements were not in keeping with the office of bishop and Christian ideas. Both Büchel and Federer’s responses are polite, avoiding direct criticism of Huonder, but they make clear that his way of interpreting Scripture and discussing sexuality are irresponsible, outdated, and not in keeping with the best practices of Catholic theology today.

Third, and finally, Bishop Büchel’s letter is noteworthy as he shifts the conversation on homosexuality from genital acts to people. His exhortation for the “responsible use of sexuality” and emphasis on conscience are similar to how many theologians and ministers have reframed the conversation around homosexuality.

While I certainly doubt acceptance of same-sex relationships can be read into Büchel or Federer’s letters, the church’s leaders’ understanding of lesbian and gay people foremost as people is an important, though much belated, step. That they do this publicly and in criticism of a local peer who is  missing the mark is great!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

U.S. Catholics Like Pope Francis, But They Differ With Him on Marriage Equality

August 31, 2015

One benefit of a papal visit is that the media focuses its attention on the Catholic Church for a while. With Pope Francis set to arrive here in under a month, the media have ramped up their coverage of our church and its various controversies. Of course, LGBT issues are right up there among the key topics covered.

Pope Francis

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in partnership with Religion News Service released the results of a survey this past week in which Americans, and particularly American Catholics, were asked about the papal visit and what they think about church teachings and policies.

The main overall finding was that 67% of Americans and 90% of American Catholics give the pope a favorable rating.  But when it comes to knowing or agreeing with some of his policies, there are some discrepancies, said Robert Jones, president and CEO of PRRI. In an article published in The National Catholic Reporter, Cathy Lynn Grossman analyzed some of the report’s data:

“The majority share his top priorities — on concern for the poor, the environment and the economy. But the flock veers from the shepherd on doctrine, particularly on sexuality and marriage.

“However, on question after question, Jones said, 1 in 5 Catholics said they didn’t know the pope’s views. And when they think they do, they’re sometimes wrong.”

The issue of same-sex marriage received specific attention in the survey.  Grossman reported:

“Consider the confusion over same-sex marriage. Francis has not changed the Catholic church’s official position opposing its legalization. Yet many U.S. Catholics (38 percent) believe he supports it. . .

The confusion might be because people like to believe the pope — famous for his  ‘Who am I to judge’ comment — thinks as they do: 49 percent of Catholics who support same-sex marriage mistakenly think the pope does as well.”

In other areas of LGBT issues,  U.S. Catholics showed strong support for equality, as has been the case for a several years now:

The Catholic church preaches against homosexual behavior. But PRRI finds most U.S. Catholics either don’t know or don’t heed that teaching:

  • 53 percent of Catholics say they don’t think same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs.
  • 60 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
  • 76 percent favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination.
  • 65 percent oppose a policy that would allow small-business owners to refuse, based on their religious beliefs, to provide products or services to gay and lesbian people.

According to the PRRI summary of the report, U.S. Catholics think Pope Francis has a better understanding of their needs than the U.S. bishops do:

“By a margin of 20-percentage points, American Catholics are more likely to say Pope Francis (80 percent), as opposed to U.S. Bishops (60 percent), understand their needs and views well.”

The survey also polled former Catholics, and while it showed that they think favorably about Pope Francis, the same positive evaluation is not given to the U.S. bishops.  According to the PRRI summary of the report:

“Nearly 2 in 3 (64 percent) of former Catholics hold a positive view of the pope and 59 percent say he understands U.S. Catholics well, but only 35 percent say the same for the American bishops. That aligns with their sour view of the institutional church: Only 43 percent hold a positive view.”

LGBT issues were not the only focus of the survey.  Attitudes on economics, environment, immigration were among the other issues surveyed. You can read the entire report here or PRRI’s summary of the report here.

In one sense, there is no surprise in this survey. We have known for years now that Catholics overwhelmingly support LGBT issues.  Just review the posts  in our Statistics category to read about the overall increasing trend of support over the last few years.

To me the two most important facts are:

  1. U.S. Catholics incorrectly assume Pope Francis agrees with them on same-sex marriage
  2. U.S. Catholics–and former Catholics–believe Pope Francis understands them better than the U.S. bishops do.

These data should be wake up calls to both laity and hierarchy in the U.S. Catholic Church.  Laity need to have a more realistic view of Pope Francis’ position on same-sex marriage–though as we have pointed out before, even as recently as yesterday, Pope Francis can send mixed signals on this issue.

The greater challenge, though, will be for U.S. bishops to recognize that Pope Francis’ gracious, welcoming style and his openness to dialogue and discussion are factors that U.S. Catholics admire and would like to see more of in their Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Associated Press: “Ahead of pope’s visit to US, some friction over LGBT issues”

Think Progress: “On Almost Every Major Issue, Catholics Are More Progressive Than The Average American”




Trans* Advocacy Happening Among Some Traditionally-Inclined Catholics

August 30, 2015

Transgender topics are increasingly being discussed in Catholic circles, including in more traditional members of the church. In this post, Bondings 2.0 offers a survey of recent news with accompanying links for further reading.

Two incidents highlight how lay people are holding clergy accountable for transphobic remarks–a sad yet necessary task when ignorance and prejudice are too readily displayed by those in leadership.

Anthony Garascia

Earlier this summer, San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone claimed it is “the clear biological fact” is that people are born male or female. This remark was deemed “misguided and harmful” by Tony Garascia, a licensed therapist and the new president of Fortunate Families.  In an op-ed for The Advocate, Garascia criticized the archbishop for failing to understand gender dysphoria:

“What Cordileone needs to understand is that people do not wake up one day and decide to change their gender, and that being transgender is deeply rooted in who they are from an early age. There is simply a disconnect between the inner experience of the individual concerning how they identify as female or male, and their biology. . .

“One wonders if Cordileone has in fact ever met with transgender people, listened to their stories, their pain, and their attempts to live authentically and integrate who they really are into how they function in the society. If he took the time to meet with trans people and consult mainstream researchers and clinicians, he would find that transgender people look to their faith and their churches for acceptance, often feel alienated from their places of worship, face great psychological distress, and are at a greater risk than others for suicide due to rejection.”

Drawing from his own professional experience and the Family Acceptance Project, Garascia highlighted the harm that negative religious attitudes from both clergy and parents can inflict upon trans* youth. These attitudes lead to real harm, and the author suggested Cordileone should also consult experts along with trans* people and their families:

“If he would only listen, he would understand that this is not about ‘gender politics’ but about treating others with dignity and respect.”

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a blogger for Patheos, also attacked trans* people, particularly Caitlyn Jenner, in a blog post linking them to demons. His ill-informed commentary was thankfully rebutted by Melinda Selmys, who herself experiences gender dysphoria though does not identify as transgender. She wrote on her own blog at Patheos:

“Although he doesn’t quite come out and say it directly, the strong implication is that transgender people remake themselves in the image and likeness of a demon. . .

“Every single trans person who reads this is going to hear ‘your identity is demonic.’ They are going to see themselves compared to a Satanic statue, and they are going to receive the message loud and clear that this Satanic symbolism is somehow representative of them. Whether it is Fr. Longenecker’s intention or not, what this actually communicates is a demonization of trans people and a rejection of their humanity.

“Such demonization, on the basis of symbolism, is not scriptural. It represents a confusion between symbols and persons, and it treats Caitlyn Jenner – and by extension her trans brothers and sisters – as nothing more than an icon of evil. It’s scandalously uncharitable, and it’s not actually based on any sound consideration of what causes gender dysphoria, or of why people identify as trans.”

Selmys, whose writings are generally more conservative, has been writing more frequently about gender diverse identities lately. Her blog, Catholic Authenticity, recently featured an interview worth reading with a Catholic trans woman, Aoife Assumpta Hart. Interestingly, though Hart disagrees with the positions of many LGBT advocates about sexuality and gender, she decided to transition and credits it with saving her life and her faith:

“Transition saved my life; it was the only treatment that, after decades of inescapable self-horror, finally allowed me to feel as if I inhabited a body in which I could belong.

“My life pre-transition was like a burning labyrinth with no centre and no exit. Transition was like like falling in love for the first time: falling in love with myself. Rage dissipated, unbearable uncertainties and colossal self-hate dissipated. In its place came clarity, patience, awareness, compassion. My heart opened: I asked myself to forgive myself. And I learned how to love all over again. This was a necessary step in my path to returning to the Church. When I existed as a fraught incongruency, how could I love myself? And how can one love God but not love one’s very own self? . . .

“We are Catholics as well – sinners, strugglers, survivors. I appraised my life situation after my suicide attempt and knew that transition would enable me to attain a peace I had never known. And in this peace I found prayer … and in prayer I knew love. Thank God.”

Even more conservative is the defense of transgender identities recently posted at the blog of the right-wing Witherspoon Institute. The author’s argument will seem quite deficient to most trans* advocates, but it is worth noting because it is a defense posted by an institution established with a goal to oppose marriage equality. Jennifer Gruenke concluded:

“I am not arguing that introspective reports of sex are infallible. But according to some studies, a majority of people who undergo sex reassignment surgery are happy with the decision. There is a real danger of misdiagnosing someone as transgender and doing surgery that does them harm, and conservatives have been correct to raise this concern in the face of those who are prepared to affirm every request. In giving the impression that this is a decisive reason against every desired sex-reassignment surgery, though, some conservatives have overstepped. Trying to change a legitimate self-perception of gender also does harm.”

What are takeaways from these developments? I think there are at least two.

First, Catholics across the church’s belief spectrum are freely thinking about gender identity matters in the absence of any defined teaching. Most, thought not all, are informing themselves through both the church’s tradition and the lived realities of gender diverse persons and their families. Where too often discussions around homosexuality become bogged down, gender identity is freely debated and even more traditionally-inclined Catholics feel free to challenge church officials whose comments do harm. In short, good theology and good pastoral practice can be nourished as they did around sexuality in the years following Vatican II.

Second, Pope Francis’ legacy will likely be defined by how willing lay people and clergy are to take up his call for a merciful and inclusive church in their local communities. When it comes to trans* people, it seems more and more Catholics of all kinds are waking up to the need for improved pastoral outreach given the suffering gender diverse communities experience–like the 20 trans* women murdered in the United States already this year. These conservative efforts are, in my opinion, incomplete and could be damaging in some cases, but they are notable for their mere existence. This does not mean they will suffice, but they are providing space for collaboration and common life-saving and faith-growing efforts to take shape.

We must continue to build upon this development, including more ministries like that of “Sr. Monica” whose work with transgender Catholics was recently highlighted by Religion News Service. She was profiled for Catholic Sisters Week last year which you can read about here. The LGBT Religious Archives Network reported on trans* Catholic advocate Hilary Howes’ comments on this sister’s ministry:

“I have been inspired by her dedication and follow-through in making things happen while remaining almost invisible herself.”

None of this means that attaining full inclusion and justice for trans* communities in the church and in the world will be quick or easy work, but there are hopeful signs from many quarters including one top English official’s claim that the church should support those who decided to transition. These forward steps should not be too easily forgotten even when a bishop reveals his ignorance or a priest lashes out from prejudice. Instead, turn to leaders like Deacon Ray Dever who has a transgender daughter and wrote earlier this week about the need to welcome all families into the church’s life.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

For more updates on trans Catholic issues, check out our “Transgender” category in the column to the right.  

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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