One of my highlights at New Ways Ministry’s Symposium last month was encountering blog readers, some of whom I knew and others whom I met for the first time. I love the community that has developed around the blog, and it is this community that sustains Bondings 2.0 in a multitude of ways!
Twice a year, Frank and I turn to you for financial support. We cannot provide high quality content about Catholic LGBT issues each and every day without your generosity. We need your support to keep this critical conversation on LGBT issues in the church going.
I was humbled at the Symposium to hear from so many of you about how the blog has been a helpful and nourishing resource these past five and a half years. This positive feedback (and your comments and emails throughout the year) in turn nourishes Frank and me when writing posts each day becomes tiring. I want to share with you a few testimonies we have received from readers:
“Bondings 2.0 has become a critical tool in keeping abreast of LGBT issues and a motivator for redress and affirmative change.”
“Thank you for providing a safe space for civil dialogue that is informative, insightful and inspiring.”
“Bondings 2.0 and all of the New Ways team have been a great blessing in my life. You are the sunshine at dawn and the rain on dry fields.”
However you support the blog—a financial contribution, sharing it with friends, leaving a comment—Frank and I are deeply grateful. Happy 5 ½ years to our companions on this journey towards LGBT equality!
Fr. John Dolan, a priest with an LGBT-positive record, has been appointed by the Vatican to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of San Diego.
Announcements about Dolan’s appointment repeatedly noted his pastoral work with marginalized people. In the past few years, this work has included ministry with LGBT Catholics and their families.
Dolan has been the diocesan vicar for clergy and pastored two churches, including the welcoming St. John the Evangelist parish in the Hillcrest neighborhood where many of San Diego’s LGBT residents live. Bishop Robert McElroy last year acknowledged the parish as a place where LGBT people have said they “feel particularly welcome” and, according to McElroy, “that’s a very good thing.”
Dolan has described his experiences with LGBT communities at St. John the Evangelist as “an eye-opening experience. . .but also a joyful experience.” These experiences led him to suggest LGBT issues were the “elephant in the room” at San Diego’s 2016 diocesan synod. Highlighting problems in how the church approaches younger Catholics, Dolan commented:
” ‘There are two different forms of doing church. . .One is very dialogical, from a dialogical sense, and the other is from a monological sense. And we have dealt with that monological world: Things come from on high, they get shelved in some pastor’s corner, then there’s some thought that comes down, but ultimately it’s all ‘We’re going to tell you what to think.’ . . .
” ‘Young adults have an acceptance of the LGBT experience. It is simply a part of their world, and they look at us, and say, “What is the problem?” ‘ “
Notably, Bishop McElroy also affirmed the need to address such issues, saying he was surprised at “where the LGBT question would come up” in the discussion section on the spirituality of marriage.” McElroy is himself a Francis appointee.
The pope’s influence on the U.S. episcopate is continuing to grow. Among the “Francis Bishops,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky offered scriptural reflections at New Ways Ministry’s national Symposium, and Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich has made repeated positive comments about LGBT people. There are presently eight vacant dioceses, and several dozen bishops approaching the age of mandatory retirement.
The Times of San Diego reported that in addition to his episcopal duties, Dolan will remain at the two parishes he now oversees. He will likely continue to learn from and be moved by the many faithful LGBT Catholics and their families whom he encounters. Hopefully, his new position will enable him to help open wider doors of welcome to LGBT people in San Diego.
Yet another academic semester is in the books. Today’s post features news highlights from around Catholic higher education.
Creighton University Responds to Hate Crime
Community members at Creighton University were shaken when a gay student, Joseph Gray, discovered a hateful note pinned to the door of his dorm room. The note said:
“Kill yourself. Leave our school. Gays are not welcome in Nebraska or Creighton.”
Gray reported the note to University officials, saying he “shouldn’t have to come back to where I sleep and worry about what I’m going to see” when he and other gay students have to worry about on-campus bullying in the daytime.
Fr. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., the University’s president, released two statements. In the first statement, he said the note was “a breach of the Jesuit values we all share as the Creighton community, values which bind us all in the common mission of ensuring Creighton is a safe, respectful, inclusive place.”
Following up, Hendrickson said he was “very troubled” by the note and confirmed it was being investigated by the administration.
Gray told WOWT 6 News, a television station in Omaha, that while the note was only frustrating to him, similar acts could be far more damaging to other students. He wants administrators to help the note’s author understand the harm such hate speech causes.
Notre Dame Graduates Walk Out on VP Pence
As Vice President Mike Pence began addressing the University of Notre Dame’s commencement last week, more than 150 graduates and their families silently walked out in protest. They were greeted outside the ceremony by some 300 additional protestors, reported the South Bend Tribune.
Xitlaly Estrada, a graduate who participated in the walkout, said the protests were because students were “for racial justice, for immigrant rights, for LGBT rights, for every marginalized group that’s been targeted by Pence’s actions.”
Student organizers with We Stand for ND cited Pence’s opposition to LGBT rights as a key part of the protests. The statement said:
“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community. . .Pope Francis has bestowed upon the world a call. . .to acknowledge and respect the humanity of sexual minorities, and to bring down all walls that separate us.”
Georgetown Students Celebrate Lavender Graduation
Students at Georgetown University once again celebrated a Lavender Graduation organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center by recognizing the achievements of some 120 LGBTQ graduates, according to the campus newspaper, The Georgetown Voice.
Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., the Catholic chaplain, said the University supports LGBTQ students “precisely because we are Catholic and Jesuit.” The Voice reported that “University President John DeGioia spoke about the activism that led to the founding of the LGBTQ Resource Center.”
Georgetown University has hosted a Lavender Graduation each year since 2009, and there are at least seven other Catholic colleges who have held such ceremonies in previous years.
Holy Cross Students Share Campus Experiences
Student leaders at the College of the Holy Cross recently displayed posters with quotes from LGBTQ+ community members about what it means to be a sexual and/or gender minority on the campus.
The Student Government Association said the project sought to raise such voices because, according to the campus newspaper, The Crusader, “In order for us to become more welcoming to people in the lgbtq+ community, we need to listen closely to what those already here are saying.”
Responses were gathered through an anonymous survey, and were mixed between positive and negative statements. Some students said they felt supported, while others said they could not be out at Holy Cross or had to begin commuting. One poster read, “Being queer at Holy Cross means you’re an activist simply by existing whether you want to be or not.”
Fordham University Raises Trans Awareness
Students at Fordham University celebrated the Transgender Day of Visibility in late March by hosting a screening of “The Trans List,” a documentary about prominent trans people like Laverne Cox and Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition. A discussion followed and student journalist, Sam Deassis, raised questions in the campus newspaper, The Fordham Observer, about the practical implications of trans awareness for their campus community.
Fordham has already taken steps to be more supportive of transgender students by implementing gender-neutral restrooms and hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in 2015.
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.
When I had the honor to introduce Dr. Frank Mugisha at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium a few weeks ago, I described him as a “prophet in our midst.” Why this is the case came through in his address on criminalization laws and the LGBT experience in Uganda, according to the National Catholic Reporter:
“Frank Mugisha still thinks twice before going down certain streets, into malls or nightclubs in his native Kampala, Uganda. Mugisha lives as an openly gay man in a country whose Parliament tried in 2009 to introduce a bill seeking the death penalty for homosexual acts. The bill has cost some Ugandans their life and has made many live in fear, not show up for work, and hide from family and friends. . .”
These threats, however, have not altered Mugisha’s determination to see LGBT rights expanded in Uganda and worldwide. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and winner of several other prominent human rights awards, Mugisha leads Sexual Minorities Uganda, the nation’s leading LGBT rights organization.
Mugisha shared with Symposium participants how much Uganda’s LGBT community appreciated Pope Francis’ message of love for all people during his 2015 visit to several African nations. Mugisha had contacted the Vatican to ask for a meeting with the pontiff when he visited the country. He said an assistant to Francis told Mugisha that a visit would not be possible, but that the pope planned to make clear to Uganda’s religious and political leaders that anti-gay rhetoric is unacceptable.
Though he did not speak publicly on LGBT issues, the pope’s message of love nonetheless challenged Catholics in a nation where the church remains both powerful and quite homophobic. Some church officials are still organizing to bring back the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Act. He told The National Catholic Reporter that a Ugandan prelate’s new book argues transgender people can be changed. But while Pope Francis visited, Ugandan church leaders remained quiet on the subject.
Mugisha shared how dangerous it still is to be an LGBT person in Uganda, saying, “We live every day in fear.” Last fall, he was arrested along with other people celebrating Pride, about which he explained, “We were put in police custody. Tortured. Forced to bathe in filthy water.”
Asked during a question and answer period how he sustains himself with prayer, Mugisha, a Catholic, replied, “Before I go to bed, I pray about things I care about. I ask God for help. I ask God to listen.”
Mugisha concluded with an exhortation to Symposium participants, encouraging them to be in contact with local solidarity groups as the best means of ensuring global LGBT human rights. He stated:
“I encourage you to think of any way you can support an LGBT person. Take it personally. Stand up. Speak out.”
“Those who came to the Chicago symposium brought with them both ‘hope and frustration,’ Massingale said: hope that more understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians was on its way into the church and frustration because that time has not yet arrived.
“The priest, who left Marquette last year to teach theology at Fordham University, pointed to a new tone in the church toward gays, a tone he characterized as ‘cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nevertheless real.'”
Massingale affirmed that beneath the rhetorical shifts, there is genuine doctrinal development happening. Church officials’ “hesitant, resistant and even hostile stance” to LGBT rights comes from their fear that legal protections would lead to approval of sexual behavior they deem immoral. Their deeper fear is the impact such acceptance would have on youth. NCR reported:
“The situation leaves the church in an often contradictory corridor or ‘open closet,’ Massingale said, one in which gays ‘are to be accepted sensitively and compassionately, as long as there is little or no public acknowledgment of their sexual identity, “lifestyle” or “culture.”‘. . .
“Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese, shared a note he had received in 2002 from Rembert Weakland, who earlier that year had resigned as archbishop of Milwaukee after a man he’d had an affair with two decades earlier and he had paid to $450,000 to keep it quiet made the relationship public. Weakland wrote: ‘On the gay issue, the level of fears is so high that the official teaching of the church skates so very close to the edge of a new ‘theology of contempt.'”
Against the “open closet” and Magisterium’s troubled approach to lesbian and gay people, Massingale said Pope Francis was focusing on LGBT people’s personhood, not their sexual conduct. Massingale added his own commentary, saying, “[LGBT people] are equally redeemed by Christ and radically loved by God.”
As an ethicist, Massingale affirmed the right LGBT people have to participate fully in society in and the church, and the necessity for the Magisterium to extend its existing support for human rights to include LGBT communities:
“To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons – that is, saying “I love the sinner” – without a commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all, is not only contradictory; it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”
A vibrant question and answer period followed Massingale’s address, during which he shared a story from his own life. After the U.S. bishops released “Always Our Children,” he called his mother. She asked Massingale for his thoughts on the document, and he replied by asking her what she thought, as it was addressed to her. She answered quickly, “I don’t need permission to love my child.”
Massingale closed with a powerful call for LGBT Catholics and their families to keep working for equality:
“Refuse the refusal. Refuse to be silenced. Continue to speak our truth even when we know it’s not going to be welcome.”
Fr. Massingale has himself been increasingly outspoken for LGBT inclusion and human rights. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale alsojoined other Catholic theologiansand officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Most recently, he has said the church cannot abandon transgender Catholics.
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.
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.”
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.
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 interviewedStowe 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.