What Makes Catholic Justice Kennedy Advocate for Lesbian & Gay Equality?

April 27, 2015

Justice Anthony Kennedy

On Tuesday of this week, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in the marriage equality cases that it will rule on by the end of the court’s session at the end of June.  Although there are nine justices on the court, six of whom are Catholic, much attention will be focused on one of them, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has often been described as the “swing vote” on a court which often hands down 5-4 decisions.  Kennedy sometimes votes with the conservative wing and sometimes with the progressive wing.

In three previous cases concerning lesbian and gay people (Romer v. Evans; Lawrence v. Texas; and Windsor v. United States), Kennedy’s vote was instrumental to form a majority in favor of more equality for this community.  In addition, he wrote the majority opinions for all three cases.

How did Anthony Kennedy get to a place where he supports equality for lesbian and gay people? At the time of Windsor v. United States, the decision which overturned key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Bondings 2.o speculated  that his Catholic upbringing may have influenced his support of human dignity and equality.  We pointed to what we thought was one of the most Catholic statements in the opinion he authored:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

A recent Associated Press story published on The Huffington Post examined Kennedy’s background and found another possible reason for his support of equality:

“The Irish Catholic boy who came of age in Sacramento after World War II is an unlikely candidate to be the author of the Supreme Court’s major gay rights rulings.

“But those who have known Justice Anthony Kennedy for decades and scholars who have studied his work say he has long stressed the importance of valuing people as individuals. And he seems likely also to have been influenced in this regard by a pillar of the Sacramento legal community, a closeted gay man who hired Kennedy as a law school instructor and testified on his behalf at his high court confirmation hearings in Washington.”

Gordon Schaber

The closeted gay man was Gordon Schaber, a California law school dean, who hired Kennedy to teach at McGeorge School of Law, Sacramento, and who became his mentor.  Though there is no evidence that they ever discussed gay legal issues, many people who knew them said that Schaber had a strong influence on Kennedy.

The Huffington Post story also considered other theories of why Kennedy votes pro-gay:

“Another longtime friend, former California Gov. Pete Wilson, said Kennedy always has evaluated people as individuals, not as members of a group. Kennedy, he said, sees everyone ‘based on their merits.’

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested in an interview last summer that one reason for changes in public opinion in favor of same-sex marriage was that, as gay Americans became more comfortable talking about the topic, people learned that they had gay friends and relatives, ‘people you have tremendous respect for.’ She was describing what sociologists call the contact theory, the idea that the majority group’s interactions with a minority will break down stereotypes and enhance acceptance of the minority group.”

Though a Catholic, Kennedy’s views on same-gender relationships are clearly not those of the hierarchy, yet he still seems influenced by Catholic discourse which promotes human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, the case which struck down anti-sodomy laws, he wrote:

“It suffices for us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring.”

We see the same expression of Catholic, though not hierarchical, values expressed in Windsor v. United States:

“It seems fair to conclude that, until recent years, many citizens had not even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage.”

A recent Seattle Times article noted the pivotal role that Kennedy will play on Tuesday:

“ ‘Everybody in that courtroom will be waiting to hear what Justice (Anthony) Kennedy has to say,’ said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & AIDS Project.

“Kennedy, 78, is a big reason same-sex marriage advocates enter the Tuesday oral argument feeling cautiously optimistic.”
And while I will be one of those keeping a keen eye on how Kennedy responds in oral arguments on Tuesday so as to try to predict the outcome of the decision, I will also be keeping a keen ear open to hear if his Catholic upbringing seems to influence the language and arguments that he uses in the court, and, possibly in any opinion or commentary that he might write on the case.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related post
Bondings 2.0: Supreme Court Marriage Equality Case Will Be Led by Catholic Gay Couple

World Deserves More Than Rumors About the French Ambassador to the Vatican

April 26, 2015

Two weeks ago, on April 12th, we published a post with the headline “Did the Vatican Reject France’s Openly Gay Ambassador?” which noted that the Vatican has yet to credential a new French ambassador who is openly gay. Speculation abounded around the topic, but with neither the Vatican nor the French government would make a statement about why Laurent Stefanini has yet to be approved by the Holy See.

Pope Francis

Two weeks later, we still don’t know the definitive answer, although this week there has been plenty of unconfirmed reports that Pope Francis met Stefanini and told him that he was not approved.  The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported:

” ‘There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.

” ‘Nothing has changed: France has proposed a candidate and for the time being we are waiting for the Vatican’s reply after the usual discussions and review of his candidacy.’ “

The reason for Stefanini not being approved might not have anything with him, though, and may have to do with the Vatican’s displeasure with the French government for having legalized marriage equality two years ago. The Daily Mail article stated:

“Earlier this month the French Catholic daily La Croix cited an unnamed source as saying the Vatican considered it a ‘provocation’ that France’s Socialist government, which in 2013 legalised gay marriages, had proposed a homosexual for the post.”

Laurent Stefanini

Based on French news reports, The Guardian newspaper reported that the pope indeed did inform the ambassador-nominee that no approval was forthcoming:

“In a meeting over the weekend, the pontiff allegedly cited his displeasure with a controversial 2013 gay marriage law in France as part of his reason for the decision, according to the report in satirical title Le Canard Enchâiné.

“Pope Francis also allegedly said he did not appreciate the manner in which France had tried to put pressure on the Vatican by nominating a man – 55-year-old Laurent Stéfanini – who French officials knew would be controversial given the church’s views on homosexuality. The Vatican declined to comment to the Guardian about the veracity of the report or whether a meeting took place.”

Yet a Religion News Service story reported only a part of the French newspaper’s account was true:

“ “There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.”

Still, a separate Religion News Service  story offered a different view of the meeting:

“Another French media report said that the unusual meeting between Stefanini and Francis — a pope rarely gets directly involved in the appointment of an ambassador — was friendly and lasted 40 minutes, and ended with the two men praying together.”

The same story also offered the following details about the nominee:

“55-year-old Stefanini is described as brilliant and a devout Roman Catholic who secured support for his candidacy from Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris. He is also a known quantity at the Vatican, having served as a top official at the French embassy to the Holy See a decade ago.”

The upshot of all these reports ends up being that it is impossible to decide which details of this story are true. Unless the Vatican and/or the French government (and Stefanini) offer more accurate and detailed information, the world cannot be sure of the truth of any of these and other reports.

The Vatican, though, has a lot more to lose than the French government about why no action has occurred.  Pope Francis’ reputation as being progressive on LGBT issues is very much at stake.  Regardless of the repercussions, though, the Vatican has a responsibility to make a statement to clarify this situation.   If they don’t then their continued silence will no doubt be interpreted as confirmation of the rumors that their unwillingness to confirm Stefanini is motivated by gay issues. Stefanini, the French government, and the rest of us deserve better from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  At the very least, we deserve to know the Vatican’s truth about the rumors that have circulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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


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