SYMPOSIUM: Kentucky Bishop Speaks Out Against Church Firings of LGBT People

When Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” he also gave an interview to  Patricia Lefevere of The National Catholic Reporter.  During that interview, Lefevere asked the bishop from Lexington, Kentucky, about the contentious issue of  LGBT employees being fired from Catholic institutions (which was also the topic of a plenary session and a focus session at the symposium).   His answers to her questions provide the strongest statements yet in support of LGBT employees from a U.S. Catholic bishop.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.

Lefevere reported that the bishop stressed that the firings of LGBT employees amounted to a form of discrimination which was not appropriate for a Catholic institution to exhibit:

“When Stowe was asked how he felt the church should respond to cases of LGBT employees — many of whom had been fired from long-held church positions when their same-sex marriages were publicized or outed — he stressed that the church must be consistent and non-discriminatory in dealing with all its employees.

” ‘We must preserve our tradition and our integrity as a church,’ he said. ‘We risk contradicting ourselves if we want our employees to live by the church’s teaching and if we ourselves as an institution don’t live by our teaching, which has always opposed discrimination of any sort.’ “

While some bishops contend that firing LGBT employees is protected under the church’s religious liberty protections,  the Franciscan bishop pointed out that a more creative response was needed.  Lefevere reported:

“Stowe thought the church could find a way to ‘defend our religious liberty without violating any one’s human rights.’ “

For Stowe, it seems, the church’s teaching on the dignity of work and workers should be a guiding force when it comes to church employment issues:

“He pointed to its century-long championing of working people, of their rights to a living wage, to humane treatment in the workplace and to collective bargaining. ‘We must be consistent, even though that can be very difficult sometimes.’ “

And the dignity of the human person must be preserved above all,  even above institutional ideals:

“The challenge is to ‘articulate Gospel principles consistently and implement them compassionately,’ he said, noting that Catholic social teaching has always upheld the dignity of each human person. ‘We preach that human flourishing is a primary goal,’ he said, ‘much more important than the protection of our institutions.’ “

Stowe’s comments constitute the most comprehensive positive statement from a U.S. bishop on the employment of LGBT people in Catholic institutions.  To this date, only one other U.S. bishop,  Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, who in 2014 told Bondings 2.o that the firings “need to be rectified.”

The bishops of Germany have instituted a policy that protects legally married gay and lesbian workers in Catholic institutions. An  America magazine editorial in 2016 called the firings “unjust discrimination.”

For other positive developments in the church worker controversy, click here.  To view New Ways Ministry’s resources on the topic, visit our Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT People page.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 23, 2017

SYMPOSIUM: Bishop Stowe Brings Message of Admiration and Respect

It has been almost a month since New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” took place in Chicago. Things have finally slowed down enough that we are able to report on it to you.  Over the next few days, we will be providing several posts about symposium highlights.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., addresses the symposium while New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick listens.

Based on the response of the over 300 participants, one of those highlights was the presence and speaking participation of Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky.  Stowe provided two scriptural reflections at the meeting, one at the Friday evening opening prayer service (Matthew 12:1-14) and one at the Saturday morning prayer service (Luke 6:37-45).

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Patricia Lefevere interviewed Stowe at the meeting and reported on his talks.  She noted that he expressed his respect for LGBT Catholics and supporters for their steadfastness in remaining in the Church:

“Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued ‘a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued’ them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.

“They’ve shown ‘a valuable expression of mercy’ in calling the church ‘to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,’ he said.”

Stowe also used his reflection time to discuss his approach to moral questions:

“In reflecting on Matthew 12:1-14, the bishop told the LGBT assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be ‘the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,’ Stowe said.”

In his interview with Lefevere,  the bishop also explained another motivation for his participation in the symposium:

” ‘New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,’ the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.”

Stowe also discussed the fact that when it became public that he would speak at New Ways Ministry’s event, some conservative Catholics in his diocese and elsewhere publicly criticized him:

” ‘The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere’ and from ‘self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,’ Stowe said, calling some of the posts and e-mails ‘vicious.’ . . .

“Among objectors, Stowe believes there are many who are sincere Catholics and are ‘really struggling’ with all the issues around homosexuality. He said he hopes and prays ‘for a culture of encounter’ to ensue so ‘we can become fully engaged with those who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?’ he asked.”

The bishop also commented on his response to young Catholics who are often much more supportive of LGBT equality than older generations.  He noted that negative actions towards LGBT people risks alienating “a whole generation” of young Catholics.  He explained how he approaches this pastoral issue:

“Stowe said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: ‘Why can’t gay and lesbian people be themselves? Bishop Stowe, why can’t they love who they want?’

“He said he admires how well young people know that the church believes each person is of value. But they also know that LGBT persons are not always welcomed or treated fairly in the church, he said.

“He tries to acquaint them with church teaching on the dignity of each human being, citing passages in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and other examples. He indicates how discrimination leads to dehumanization, frequently expressed in bullying, abuse, sometimes violence and even death.

” ‘We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,’ the bishop insisted.”

In introducing Bishop Stowe to the symposium participants, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained that he had heard the Franciscan bishop speak at a conference and was impressed with his message:

” ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,’ DeBernardo said, comparing Stowe’s words to those of Pope Francis and to St. Francis of Assisi. All three men seemed to be saying that ‘it was the church’s job to take the Gospel to the margins,’ DeBernardo said.”

For a meeting whose title and theme focused on Pope Francis, it was very appropriate to have a bishop speaking who so aptly echoed many of the pontiff’s affirming messages for LGBT people.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2017

Newman University Recognizes LGBTQ Group; The Catholic University of America Holds Out

As another school year wraps up, students at Newman University, Wichita, Kansas,  are celebrating a new LGBTQ student group. Today’s post shares this story and an opposite one from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.  Both stories highlight the importance of such groups.

Newman University Welcomes LGBTQ Group

Facing student pressure, Newman University administrators approved an LGBTQ student group this spring.

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Ruben Lerma

Ruben Lerma led efforts for a recognized group at the school, which he decided to attend because it offered him generous financial aid despite his lack of U.S. citizenship. But being gay, Lerma was skeptical of attending a Catholic institution. The Witchita Eagle reported:

“He overheard other students on campus talk about how gay people should go to hell, he said, and how the legalization of gay marriage would lead gays to want to get married to animals. Some of his friends would point out other students on campus who, he was told, hated gay people.”

These experiences propelled Lerma to make a public speech his junior year, acknowledging that he was not the only gay person on campus and, “If for their sake, if not mine, you should make [the campus] more amiable, make the environment better.”

Student interest in an LGBTQ group spread quickly, building on existing alumni support and a more general overhaul on campus about how the school handles diversity.

In response to this pressure, administrators formed a committee to figure out how the school could better support LGBTQ students like Lerma. The Eagle reported that the committee, “which included nuns, priests, students, faculty, and administrators,” is modeled on the University of Notre Dame’s pastoral plan for LGBT students.

The plan, supported by Newman University staff, recognizes a new student group called Kaleidoscope. Student Adviser Ami Larrea, who helped form the group, explained the name:

“‘A kaleidoscope has all these different colors and shapes, but they somehow come together to make this really awesome picture and it’s beautiful even though it’s all different. . .That was important for us. We are LGBTQ, but we are different colors, different shapes and sizes, and it all looks great.'”

The plan, unfortunately, reveals the compromises which LGBTQ students are often required to make in more conservative Catholic environments. The Eagle reported:

“The Notre Dame-type model included language that emphasizes that the club cannot contradict the Catholic view that LGBTQ students should be ‘chaste,’ because sex is condoned only in marriage between a man and a woman.

“‘The University exhorts all to hear and live the Church’s teaching that ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage (between man and woman) is essentially contrary to its purpose’ and is considered gravely sinful,’ the plan reads.”

Dean of Student Affairs Levi Esses affirmed this mission, saying the group would be a “very supportive atmosphere” for students to remain celibate outside of heterosexual marriage. Nonetheless, students are celebrating the plan even with its compromises:

“Kevin Clack, who will be the group’s first student leader, said he doesn’t think the language in the pastoral plan means the group won’t be able to talk about dating and romance. But LGBTQ students have a lot of concerns, and Clack said he doesn’t expect the group to focus on sexuality more than any other group on campus, including the Black Student Union, of which he is also a member.

“Clack doesn’t agree with the language about what constitutes a true marriage but thinks compromise was necessary to get the group started.”

Catholic University of America Denies LGBTQ Group Again

Meanwhile, administrators at The Catholic University of America again denied students’ application for a recognized LGBTQ group, CUAllies.

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John Garvey

Speaking at a town hall with students, President John Garvey explained his rationale, according to campus newspaper The Tower:

“‘We’re not going to officially sponsor CUAllies. But that should not, I hope, be the measure of our support. . .We do not want to endorse a whole set of propositions that our culture insists on sexuality and gender. . .Neither do we want to ignore the needs of our gay and lesbian students. We ask all freshmen to take a pledge when coming here, we offer a counseling center, and Father Jude has a chaplet initiative.'”

Earlier this spring, the University hosted lesbian Catholic speaker Eve Tushnet who promotes celibacy for lesbian and gay people. In response, CUAllies President Carly Tomaine told The Tower that in keeping with Tushnet’s message about inclusion, “[The university] needs to publicly acknowledge [CUAllies] because no one wants to be pushed to the side.”

Administrators have rejected student and alumni requests for CUAllies to be recognized since 2008, leading one alumnus to publish a post on Buzzfeed recently titled “Reasons Queer Youth Should Not Attend Catholic University of America.”

Student demands at both Newman University and Catholic University make clear the importance of recognized LGBTQ student groups that act both as safe spaces and campus educators. Thankfully, more often than not, we report on Catholic institutions which are recognizing, not rejecting such groups.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 21, 2017

 

 

Nuns As Queer

Nancy Corcoran, CSJ

Today’s post is from guest blogger, Sister Nancy Corcoran, CSJ. Students at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, first introduced themselves to Nancy as trans or gender-variant in her role as the Catholic Chaplain at the school. Recently retired, she is on a sabbatical, exploring a ministry of presence and accompaniment with other queer folk.

 

Before I became a Sister of St. Joseph, I visited New York City to meet Sister Anne Brotherton who was getting her doctorate at Fordham University.  As we toured Greenwich Village together, I asked Anne if she felt funny walking around in a traditional habit. “Oh, no”, she responded, “I feel quite comfortable.  We’re all queer here”.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “queer” as  “differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal.”  And today, the term “queer” is being reclaimed as a source of pride to folks who disdain the rigid binary classifications of being either female or male.  So why do I think of nuns as queer?

Presently, I am on a sabbatical exploring ministry with LGBTQIA folks after working at a women’s college that graduated a few men every year.  The students exposed me to the rigid binary construction of female and male.  The way they used their clothing and hair styles in ways that did not fit the gender binary politicized my consciousness.

When I no longer had the energy to keep up with the 18-22-year-olds as their Catholic Chaplain, I retired, and I am now on sabbatical. During this time, I have learned that rather than “peculiar, bizarre or weird”, the term “queer” has come to mean “unconventional, unorthodox folks who make visible that maleness and femaleness are social constructions rather than divinely assigned categories”.

Believing that one cannot minister with humans that we believe to be “other” than ourselves, I began reflecting on how I and my religious sisters have also challenged the binary. Let me share some examples which have existed in convents. In an age when a woman’s glory was her long hair, nuns cut theirs off before they pronounced vows. They often were given names reserved for men. Richard Joseph, Francis Regis, John Kenneth, James Patrick, Christopher, Leo, Paul are names of some of my sisters who are alive today.  If sisters did not bind their breasts, they often wore bib like material to disguise their natural form.  Like males, most sisters did not wear makeup. When in habit they went “stealth” at times, especially at the beach.

When I was a child in the 1950-60’s, religious women did the jobs that men did. They were presidents of colleges, principals of schools, administrators and financial officers of hospitals. Some sisters note that when they wore a habit, they were no longer perceived as a woman. We were given instant authority, instant deference.  They were perceived equal to priests–or at least of higher privilege than other women.

Like the experience of many transgender and gender non-conforming humans, many of our parents were not pleased with the choice of our entering the convent.  Our parents’ dreams of traditional weddings and grandchildren faded with our choice.  So I find I have a lot more in common with folks who claim the term “queer” than I had thought possible.

I have hope that by normalizing our “unconventional” and “unorthodox” choices, we might also claim our love and support of humans who likewise challenge the social construction of our society. Rigid constructions of our social norms do need to be challenged. Perhaps by looking at the choices made by nuns, we might expand our acceptance of other queer folk, and explore together how to be fully human.

Sister Nancy Corcoran, CSJ, May 20, 2017

Gay Teacher Harassed by Students Fired by Jesuit High School

A Catholic high school in Chicago has fired a gay teacher after students outed and harassed him for over a year.

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Matt Tedeschi

Matt Tedeschi taught religious studies and French at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit institution. Having taught for four years, he was up for tenure next year. But trouble began in February 2016 when a student discovered his profile on an online dating website. DNA Info reported:

“After discovering the dating profile, the St. Ignatius student texted screenshots of Tedeschi’s profile to several other St. Ignatius students, and it spread across campus.

” ‘He “outed” me to a bunch of students. He knew that he was making fun of me and insulting me,’ Tedeschi said. ‘He wanted to embarrass me.’ “

Tedeschi said he never expected students to find him on the website, which is for people age eighteen and older and which is used by other staff at St. Ignatius. He told DNA Info, “Everyone should have the right to a private life.”

Students continued to harass Tedeschi for over a year. One student tweeted against him sixteen times. The tweets include one that said, “Let’s not forget I have screenshots that can end you,” a reference to the screenshots of the teacher’s dating profile, one of which was included in the tweet. All of this created what Tedeschi described as “a horrible environment,” especially given the aforementioned tweet which he considers “public blackmail.”

Unfortunately, school administrators offered little support for Tedeschi. He informed them multiple times about students finding his dating profile and about their continued harassment. Just one student received two detentions for tweeting against Tedeschi. Principal Brianna Latko did little to stop what Tedeschi called a “culture of harassment.” He explained:

” ‘[School officials] were just watching it play out. . .I was having anxiety attacks before I went to class. It just completely undermined my authority as a teacher and made me feel small. … This unnecessarily pitted me against my students, which never should have been the case.’ “

This March, Tedeschi was informed that St. Ignatius would not be renewing his contract for the 2017-2018 school year. According to DNA Info:

“The school gave him the opportunity to finish out the school year, but after he discussed his departure with a colleague, the school called him to say that his employment was being terminated immediately. In exchange for the rest of his salary he would have earned over the semester, school administrators urged him to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but Tedeschi declined, he said.

“Tedeschi said he was told he was being fired because he showed poor judgment posting photos online and didn’t stop the classroom conversation involving the sensitive information. He said he was also told he was negative and undermined authority — although administrators declined to elaborate to him on these charges or provide further details in writing.”

Administrators will not comment on the firing or surrounding events. Spokesperson Ryan Bergin said confidentiality precluded any comment, but that Tedeschi was “treated fairly” and that school officials “wish him all the best.”

Though his sexual orientation was not explicitly referenced when he was fired, Tedeschi said the firing is really about him being forcibly outed by students as a gay man, his decision to seek an end to the harassment, and the school’s attempt to cover up an embarrassing incident. A colleague agreed that it was not Matt being gay which was the problem, but that his public outing violated the “hush-hush” attitude towards gay faculty and students and was “creating too much trouble.”

Tedeschi has released an open letter (see end of linked article) to the school community, in which he expressed gratitude for the school community. He is publicly telling his story of firing because “only by speaking truthfully and openly can our institution become a better version of itself.” He is now considering his legal options.

This firing is a tremendous loss. Students have lost a teacher who by all accounts was gifted and enthusiastic. Tedeschi was not supported by the administration against harrassment. St. Ignatius administrators’ decision to fire him is troubling for one more reason. It sends the message to offending students and the wider community that homophobia is implicitly acceptable because, in this case, it was the victim who was punished, not the harassers.

 —Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2017

 

Former Vice President Joe Biden Calls for Greater Global LGBT Solidarity

Marking yesterday’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia, former Vice President Joe Biden called for people in the U.S. to be in greater solidarity with LGBT people around the world.

Biden - Human DignityBiden, who is Catholic, wrote in the Washington Post that his father instilled in him a belief that “everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.” He continued:

“It’s a simple but powerful notion that lies at the heart of our identity as Americans. It is a truth that continues to drive me today, particularly when it comes to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. . .

“Progress doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because good people come together and demand change. And any person of conscience, regardless of their religious or partisan beliefs, should be able to agree: Violence against any person, in any form, is intolerable. No one should be killed, tortured, assaulted or harassed because of who they are.”

Biden noted the many advances in LGBT rights in recent years, but he pointed out how much work remains when LGBT people are being discriminated against, tortured, and even killed in places like Chechnya, Syria, Iraq, and Uganda. Biden notably rejected the use of religion to justify such human rights violations:

“This offensive argument ignores the fundamental truth that LGBT rights are human rights. Prejudice is prejudice; inhumanity is inhumanity. Using religion or culture to license discrimination and demonizing LGBT individuals to score political points are no more justifiable around the world than they are here at home.”

Biden - Work to DoBiden concluded with an appeal to fellow Americans to enact greater solidarity with LGBT communities worldwide through government policy, business partnerships, and personal action:

“In the face of such atrocities, it is the responsibility of every person to speak out. . .Progress is possible. But we cannot wait, we cannot stand by. . .

“Together, we will work to defend and advance the human rights of all people, and we will not rest until equality, at home and around the world, is fully realized. Until then, to all those suffering discrimination and violence simply because of who they are or whom they love, know this: The American people are on your side.”

 As Vice President, he was a noted advocate for LGBT equality who once said trans rights were “the civil rights issue of our time.”  He vocally supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and he is credited with moving former President Barack Obama to support marriage equality. Biden even officiated at a staffer’s same-gender wedding in the vice presidential residence, despite some bishops’ criticism. Biden has said that the criteria for marriage he used was, “Who do you love?

It is a hopeful sign that the former vice president, through the Biden Foundation, is still prioritizing global LGBT rights, growing his profile as one of the nation’s most high-profile Catholic advocates for equality.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 18, 2017

 

Catholic Parishes Hold IDAHOBIT Prayer Vigils to Oppose Anti-LGBT Actions

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia  (IDAHOBIT). While this commemoration is not widely marked here in the United States,  in other nations, particularly in Europe, it is an important time to oppose prejudice and discrimination.

An IDAHOBIT prayer vigil held in Milan, Italy, May 12, 2017

Catholic participation in IDAHOBIT has grown over the past few years.  According to Progetto Gionata, an Italian LGBT Christian group, reports that this year prayer vigils marking the occasion (over the course of a week) will be held in Catholic churches in seven Italian cities and one in Spain.  The cities and churches are:

Italy

  • Milan: Santa Maria della Passione
  • Reggio Emilia:  Regina Pacis
  • Pistoia:  Santa Maria Maggiore di Vicofara a Pistoia
  • Catania:  SS. Crocifisso della Buona Morte
  • Florence:  Madonna della Tosse
  • Bologna:  San Bartolomeo della Beverara
  • Genoa:  San Pietro in Banchi

Spain

  • Seville:  San Pedro de Alcántara

Most notably on this list are the additions of Genoa and Palermo, two places where bishops put a stop to such prayer vigils in previous years.  Notably, the Archdiocese of Palermo has an archbishop, Corrado Lorefice, appointed in 2015 by Pope Francis.

Progetto Gionata also reports that at least in one location, a high-ranking diocesan official will lead the prayer vigil:

This is not the only news for this year, for the first time religious orders and Catholic associations will also publicly take part in the vigils. In Genoa the vigil will not only be hosted by a parish but, last minute changes notwithstanding, the general vicar for the dioceses Nicolò Anselmi will participate. “I think this is the most visible sign of how the Church is beginning to really ask itself the questions brought forth by the Synod in regards to providing pastoral welcoming for LGBT people and their families” says Innocenzo Pontillo, from Progetto Gionata.

Last month, at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” participants heard Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, speak about how homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia translate in his country into oppression and violence.   After his talk, New Ways Ministry asked symposium participants if they would pose for a photo that would be used on IDAHOBIT to show over 300 U.S. Catholics who oppose such prejudice and discrimination.  Here it is:

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Catholic doctrine is so clear in opposing harmful attitudes and actions based in phobic reactions to people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  Catholic parishes around the world should be opening their doors on this day to sponsor prayer vigils to counter such destructive practices.  The growing number of parishes, including those listed above, are great pioneers in this movement.

It may be too late to organize and IDAHOBIT action for this year.  But one thing you can do is make a pledge that you will work to get your  Catholic parish, school, or other institution, to host a prayer vigil on May 17, 2018.  It’s not too early to start now!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 17, 2017