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


Pope Francis’ Remark About Children’s Book Raises Question of His Support for Lesbian and Gay Families

August 29, 2015

Pope Francis

Pope Francis is once again making headlines for a message which may have contained a positive comment on families headed by lesbian and gay couples.

The reason that the above sentence contains may is because, as has happened before, the pope’s comment is somewhat cryptic and open to interpretation, not to mention that the Vatican is downplaying any gay-positive intent.

Through a message by one of his staff members at the Vatican Secretariat of State, Msgr. Peter B. Wells, the pope sent a message of encouragement to an Italian author, Francesca Pardi, who recently penned a children’s book about families which has been controversial in Italy because some of its characters are gay penguins and lesbian rabbits youngsters.  Pardi sent the book, along with other books with gay and lesbian themes, to the Pontiff in June.

According to a news report in The Guardian, the significant part of the letter from the Vatican stated:

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values.”

The book’s Italian cover. (translated: “Little Egg”)

While this may not seem to be a ringing endorsement of the book, entitled Piccolo Uovo (translation:  Little Egg), it is certainly a strong affirmation of Pardi and her work, which has been the center of a literary-political storm in Italy.  The Guardian story notes:

“The book. . .was met with disapproval by Venice’s new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, who in June banned Piccolo Uovo and about 50 other titles from schools. The decision led more than 250 Italian authors to demand their own books be removed from the city’s shelves, a move one writer described as a ‘protest against an appalling gesture of censorship and ignorance.’ “

In fact, when Pardi sent the book to the pope, she included a letter describing the negative criticism that she received. Catholics are a large part of the “We Defend the Family Committee,” a nationwide group against lesbian and gay families,  which has been one of the leaders of the campaign against Pardi’s book. In part, she told the pope:

“Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us.We have respect for Catholics … A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

So, while the pope did not make a direct statement about the lesbian and gay content of the book, he did take the position of affirming the book which has been embroiled in a public controversy, and one which involves Catholics.

The Guardian also reported that a Vatican official offered an explanation for the pope’s comment which indicates that it was not meant to be affirming of families headed by lesbian or gay parents:

“The Vatican said the closing blessing of the private letter was addressed to Pardi and not in support of teachings which went against church doctrine on ‘gender theory.’ “

Hmmmmm.  Sounds like a bit of hair-splitting to me.

Francesca Pardi

Pardi, herself has interpreted the message very positively, while also very realistically.  The Guardian reported:

“Pardi said she had not expected a reply and was surprised to receive the letter at her Milan home. ‘It’s not that I think that he’s for gay families, because there’s the Catholic doctrine, but we mustn’t think that we don’t have rights,’ she said.”

Pardi also told the International Business Times that she saw the blessing as an opening for greater dialogue:

” ‘I was very touched by it,’ Pardi told IBTimes UK. She explained that the letter was not supportive of gay rights but nevertheless marked an important change in the Church attitude towards homosexuals. ‘Obviously he [Francis] doesn’t agree with homosexuality and if he ever was to make such an opening he would never do so in a private letter to me!’ she said. ‘However, only to consider me as an interlocutor worth respect is a tremendous step forward. I read it as an opening towards people and dialogue, a message of tolerance.’ “

Because Italy does not have marriage equality or protections for lesbian parents with children, Pardi married her wife in Spain, and the couple had their four children in the Netherlands, according to Jezebel.com.

So how do we interpret this latest cryptic message from Francis? While I try to be cautious of over-interpreting his statements in a positive light, I can’t help but think that he, and his staff, have to know what they are doing and how the public will react to their comments.  He has had too many ambiguously positive LGBT statements over the past few years for this to be merely accidental.

At the same time, let’s not rush to assume that Pope Francis is supporting marriage equality.  His clear negative statements about legalizing marriage for lesbian and gay couples are a clear indication that he opposes such initiatives.

I think that Pope Francis is showing Catholics that they can interact politely with people with whom they disagree.  He is not presenting content to the debate, but modeling how the debate can take place. As I’ve said before, that, in itself is a step forward. I believe that once the debate about LGBT issues can occur civilly in the Church, then we are on our way to taking steps towards greater justice and equality.

As I’ve also said before, though, we have to recognize this phase as a first step, and not relax into complacency.  There is still much work to be done to achieve full equality of LGBT people in the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

People: “Pope Francis Praises Author of Children’s Book That Includes Lesbian Rabbits and Gay Penguin Parents”

Huffington Post: Pope Francis Gives Blessing To Author Of Gay Children’s Book”

New York Daily News: “Pope Francis sends letter lauding LGBT-themed children’s book banned by Venice mayor”

A Plus: “Pope Francis Again Proves He’s A Revolutionary By Praising A Children’s Book Conservatives Hate”

Daily News Analysis India: “Breaking taboos: Pope Francis blesses lesbian children’s author who writes on same-sex families”

 

 

 


Let’s Have a World Meeting of ALL Families

August 28, 2015

Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida.

In recent months, a steady stream of documents, talks, and other communications from the Catholic Church have been issued on the topic of the family–all in anticipation of and preparation for the World Meeting of Families that will take place in Philadelphia in September and the subsequent Synod of Bishops on the family to be held in Rome in October.  Pope Francis, the Pontifical Council on the Family, and various associated organizations and individuals in the Church have been engaged in an ongoing catechesis and wide-ranging discussion on the family.

Like many of us, I’ve done my best to keep up with and to reflect on these almost daily pronouncements.  And as I do so, it’s been difficult to not become disheartened by what seem to be recurring themes that focus on a narrow ideal of the Catholic family, and that ignore or devalue the reality of the diverse, faithful families that comprise the Body of Christ today.  And the ongoing discussions and debates about what will and will not be on the meeting agendas, and who will and will not be allowed to participate in the meetings, unfortunately seem out of touch with the lived reality of families today.

As any Catholic clergy or lay minister can tell you, the families that one encounters every day in pastoral ministry in the Church are enormously diverse.  The idea that there is some kind of ideal Christian family that comprises the majority of our congregations is quite simply a fiction.  And with my own situation as ordained Catholic clergy, married with a transgender daughter and with two other daughters who are strong LGBTQ allies, I would definitely count my own family among that diversity.  So as I add my thoughts to these ongoing reflections on the topic of Catholic family, my perspective is both pastoral and deeply personal.

I wonder what people envision when they hear Pope Francis speak about heroic families, as he did in his general audience of June 10, 2015.  In that address, Pope Francis lauded the heroism of parents who work during the day to support their families and then continue the work of selflessly caring for their families at night, dealing with sick children and all the other exhausting, daily challenges of family life.  It’s easy for most of us to identify with that scenario, as that is the reality of life in any loving, faithful family.

But who exactly does the Church think these heroic families praised by the Pope are?  Are they only ideal families headed by a Catholic man and a Catholic woman, whose first and only marriage took place in the Catholic Church?  The answer to that question is self-evident to anyone who is part of the faithful families that comprise our congregations.  Of course not!  Of course there are a wide variety of heroic families in the pews every Sunday, heroic in every sense of the Pope’s words – faithful families headed by the divorced, the remarried, unmarried couples, couples of different faiths, and single parents.  And yes, even families like mine with LGBTQ children, and families headed by same-sex couples.

parent of transThese families certainly aren’t perfect, but it would be useful to remind ourselves that none of the families in the pews are perfect (including the families of deacons).  But we should also be mindful of our foundational belief that the members of those families are all created in the image and likeness of God, and that all have an inherent value and dignity as a result.  Jesus didn’t spend his time on earth only ministering to perfect Jewish families – he ministered emphatically to everyone.  All faithful families deserve a seat at the table if the Church is going to be serious about addressing the reality of family life in the Church today.

Pope Francis has made quite clear his vision of Church as a field hospital, healing the wounds of all the faithful.  And he has challenged those who minister in the Church to be like shepherds who smell like their sheep, shepherds whose hands are dirty from dealing with the reality of the messy lives of the faithful.  I don’t see how the Church can follow this vision and get to know, evangelize, and minister to the families that comprise its flock, if most of them are left outside the closed doors of the meeting rooms in Philadelphia and Rome.

As I reflect on all this from the context of my own extended family, I can’t help but think of my own father, who passed away in 1965 when I was still in high school.  He was a hard-nosed, fun-loving, athletic Irish-American, who was fiercely loyal to his family, the Catholic Church, and his country.  He served on an attack transport in the Navy in World War II, in both the Mediterranean and the Pacific, participating in some of the bloodiest island invasions in the war.

I sometimes wonder what he would think of all the changes in society and the Church that have occurred since the 1960s.  As foreign as many aspects of life today might have been to him if he could see them, there is one thing that I know for certain.  If anyone were to suggest to him that my family had some second-class status in the Church, or was even unwelcome in the Church, because we have a transgender daughter whom we love and support, or if anyone had anything negative to say about his transgender granddaughter, he would have been in their face in a heartbeat.

I know that kind of passion runs deep in the committed, loving families that are doing their best, week in and week out, to follow the faith, and if the Church chooses to exclude or demean them, it does so at its own peril.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire the Church to open the doors and to truly have a world meeting of all families.

–Deacon Ray Dever, St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

Previous Bondings 2.0 blog post by Deacon Ray Deaver:

December 28, 2014:  “LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday


New Ways Ministry Congratulates St. Mary’s Academy on Adoption of Employment Non-Discrimination Policy

August 27, 2015

The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, in response the news that a Catholic high school has adopted an employment non-discrimination policy about sexual orientation and marital status.

New Ways Ministry thanks and congratulates St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oregon, for not only reversing their decision to dismiss a counselor who they learned was a lesbian, but to adopt a non-discrimination policy which welcomes gay and lesbian employees, including those who are legally married.

St. Mary’s policy sets a precedent for Catholic institutions across the nation and around the globe who are faced with the new reality of gay and lesbian people who are more open about their sexual orientations, and the even newer reality of the legalization of marriage for gay and lesbian people.  To the Catholic Church’s shame, since 2008, over 50 employees have lost their jobs at Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues—most of them involving marriage.  These 50 are only the cases which have become public.

(For a list of the known employees fired, click here.)

Since 2013, New Ways Ministry has been advocating for Catholic institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies protecting people from being fired because of sexual orientation, marital or relational status, and support for marriage equality.  Such policies are easily supported by the authentic Catholic teachings on social justice and conscience. Though a number of institutions have had discussions in regard to such policies, St. Mary’s Academy is the first known Catholic employer to adopt one.

Equally impressive for St. Mary’s Academy is the speed with which the school reversed its decision.  One day after the dismissal became public, the school’s board met and voted to continue hiring the counselor and to adopt the non-discrimination policy.  This speed saved the school community of parents, students, teachers, alumni much grief, as witnessed by the countless strong and pain-filled protests that other institutions have faced because of similar employment disputes.

The St. Mary’s case had been particularly egregious because in addition to withdrawing its contract, the school had asked Lauren Brown, the employee, to remain silent about their decision.  Brown said that as a matter of integrity she could not be silent, and so she made her story and pertinent documents available to the press. Her example shows that openness and transparency are ways of achieving justice.  The burgeoning protest by students, alumni, and parents surely also played a role.

New Ways Ministry prays that other Catholic workplaces will follow the example of St. Mary’s Academy in adopting non-discrimination policies.  In doing so, they will be living up to the best ideals of the Catholic faith’s promotion of human dignity and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


BREAKING NEWS: In Quick Victory, Catholic School Reverses Position in Firing of Lesbian Teacher

August 27, 2015

Lauren Brown

In a landmark decision for LGBT employees at Catholic institutions, St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, has altered its employment policies to be more inclusive, in response to what was a growing backlash against administrators’ decision to withdraw an employment contract with a lesbian counselor, Lauren Brown. Bondings 2.0 reported on this incident earlier today and you can find more details here.

In a Wednesday night meeting of the school’s board, members voted to expand employment policies to welcome gay staff and administrators will attempt to reconcile with Brown, whose job offer was rescinded after she came out as a lesbian woman to school officials.

A statement on Facebook from St. Mary’s President Christina Friedoff said, in part:

“Effective immediately, St. Mary’s has added sexual orientation to its equal employment opportunity policy.

“St. Mary’s is a diverse community that welcomes and includes gay and lesbian students, faculty, alumnae, parents and friends, including those that are married.”

[New Ways Ministry’s official response to these decisions can be found by clicking here.]

Mounting pressure from students, alumni, and the local community triggered the board meeting, wherein the school reversed its position less than 48 hours after a previous letter from Friedoff defending the firing was sent. Yesterday, about twenty students protested at the school and others took to social media through the hashtag #FightForSMA to express their disapproval. Anna Lee, a senior, told The Oregonian:

“I was confused, then I started to get angry. . .There’s an unspoken rule of acceptance. The teachers make us feel safe, and we can confide anything.”

Another student, senior Katie Ferrarini, told KPTV that the decision to discriminate against Brown was “surprising” because their entire junior year religion class focused on social justice and it was made clear discrimination was unjust. Indeed, one alumna speaking to NewNowNext said:

“The irony is the school’s mission is so much about social justice. They trained us to fight this.”

Also worth noting is a critical statement from Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, and his wife, Mary, a 1967 alumna of St. Mary’s who are among the school’s most generous benefactors. The Boyles were “extremely disappointed” and said the school’s decision “was wrong and should be reversed,” reported Willamette Weekly.

What happened at St. Mary’s Academy is a remarkable success, which has not happened in the more than 50 public incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their job in LGBT-related employment disputes. First, Lauren Brown refused to be silenced through a payout and was a credible witness for young women at St. Mary’s of living with authenticity and integrity. Now, community members came together as church, using their different leverage points to enact lasting positive change from a wounding injustice.

New Ways Ministry has been advocating for Catholic institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies like the one St. Mary’s Academy has.  Let’s pray that other schools, parishes, and church institutions will follow their example.

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 almost 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


Dismissed Lesbian Educator Refuses Catholic School’s Monetary Offer

August 27, 2015

Lauren Brown

Update: The board of St. Mary’s Academy has changed the school’s employment policies as a result of this incident. For more details, see Bondings 2.0‘s updated coverage by clicking here.

A Catholic school in Oregon withdrew a job offer to a lesbian woman after finding out about her sexual orientation and relationship with a woman.  Additionally, according to documents released by the prospective educator, the school asked her to sign an agreement not to sue the institution and not to speak about the contract withdrawal.

Administrators at St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls high school in downtown Portland, informed Lauren Brown they would not be honoring the contract they agreed upon in April,  and they offered her a year’s compensation if she would agree not to file legal action against the school and also to remain silent about the contract’s withdrawal. Brown rejected the hush money, telling Willamette Weekly:

“To sign a contract that’s going to affect the rest of my life, and my passion for advocating for LGBT youth and LGBT people—there’s no way I could sign that. . .I could never live with myself.”

You can read the documents Brown released by clicking here.

Other details about the incident are in dispute. Brown claims that in July she informed Principal Kelli Clarke about her relationship with a woman:

“Brown says she asked Clark in that phone call what she should say in her [staff] biography, since she has a girlfriend. Brown also asked: Would she be allowed to bring her girlfriend to school events? What if she got married? She says Clark told her that was uncharted territory, but that Clark would support her. 

“Brown says Clark called back July 30 with a different message: ‘It may not work out.’ . . .

“Brown met with Clark and [school president Christina] Friedhoff at St. Mary’s on Aug. 4. She says the meeting lasted more than three hours, with both women pressuring her to sign a separation agreement that offered her six months’ salary in return for a promise not to sue the school or talk about why she lost the job.”

That agreement even dictated, verbatim, what Brown could post to social media about the firing and mandated that she reply to inquiries by saying, “I learned that my intent to enter into a same-sex marriage is in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic church.”

A St. Mary’s lawyer tells a different story. The school claims Brown notified them of her upcoming marriage in the fall and the school sought the separation agreement to explicitly identify her “intent to enter a same-sex marriage” as the reason. That language for social media and inquiries was requested by Brown, says the school.

In a letter to the community, Friedhoff stated that the school’s sponsoring congregation, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, as well as the board, support the school’s decision.  Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample also expressed support for the administration with his own statement, reported on in The Oregonian.

Brown said that she rejected the money so St. Mary’s students, some of whom, assuredly, would be part of the LGBT community, would “not be ashamed of who they are” and to point out that even in Portland there is discrimination.

Statue on campus decorated in protest by current students

Brown has hired an attorney and is considering her legal options, but as with many recent firings in the U.S. there is already a growing public support for her situation. Jeanna Frazzini of Basic Rights Oregon said this support is to be expected because Catholic education imbued so many with a sense of justice and inclusion:

“Some of my dearest colleagues in social justice came out of St. Mary’s. . .When folks at the school hear about what’s happening, they’ll be concerned—and they’ll want to see significant changes.”

Students, alumni, and Portlanders are uniting on Twitter around the hashtag #FightForSMA and decorated a campus statue in rainbow garb to protest the firing. More action may emerge as classes resume next week.

Back to school was always an exciting time for me, as was the end of school. This excitement has been tempered in the last few years because these times now mean an uptick in educators and church workers losing their jobs in LGBT-related disputes. Lauren Brown could have greatly contributed to St. Mary’s Academy, a self-described “diverse community,” in her position as college counselor.

Instead, students will only know Brown as the victim of administrators who are putting the letter of the church’s law over any concern for social justice. What a sad lesson to begin a new school year on.

Thankfully, Brown is teaching these young women a far more essential lesson about not comprising your identity or integrity.

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 almost 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


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